A century ago the Rust Belt was the country’s industrial heartland, with cities like Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Detroit innovating manufacturing processes that drew, among others, large numbers of European and Latin immigrants.
When industrial decline eliminated well-paid blue-collar jobs, entire families of new Americans left for more foreign-friendly metropolises to find better work opportunities and living conditions.
Today, many of these once-dominant industrial cities are taking steps to attract immigrants and refugees as a way to reverse a half-century of population decline. Welcoming groups in Cleveland, Dayton, Detroit and St. Louis promote immigrant integration within the region, while public officials in Cincinnati and Pittsburgh have been vocal about foreign-born entrepreneurs serving as a catalyst for spurring business creation and rebuilding downtrodden neighborhoods.
Immigrant-sparked business creation proves out this need, according to the Welcoming Economies Global Network (WE Global), a collection of 20 Rust Belt economic and community development initiatives focused on rebooting the regional economy through the integration of international residents. In ten states from Minnesota to Pennsylvania, non-native citizens have founded nearly half (45 percent) of the region’s Fortune 500 companies, notes a WE Global report.