The Kansas City region is one of 20 communities across the country selected to participate in the national Gateways for Growth initiative, an effort sponsored by New American Economy (NAE) and Welcoming America to welcome and integrate immigrants as part of an economic growth strategy.
Though the immigration debate has been divisive along the campaign trail, most cities do not subscribe to the idea that lowered levels of immigration is good policy. In fact, numerous cities and regions around the country—Kansas City among them—are trying to do just the opposite by implementing strategies to attract and retain more immigrants.
Today, national and local experts came together to launch the Gateways for Growth initiative in Kansas City and discuss how the immigrant population in the region contributes to its economic vitality. At an event hosted by the Kauffman Foundation, speakers addressed the importance of attracting international students and others to settle in the metro area, and what they’re doing to create a welcoming environment for these new residents.
The region’s foreign-born population now totals more than 131,000 individuals and continues to grow. Around 3,500 foreign students are enrolled at area colleges and universities, and keeping them in the metro area after graduation to fill technical and other jobs or start businesses is key to strengthening Kansas City’s economy.
“Greater Kansas City’s workforce is becoming increasingly diversified,” said Doug Girod, co-chair of KC Rising. “Data shows that retaining half of the foreign-born students enrolled in area colleges and universities could create 485 jobs and boost our gross domestic product by $115.6 million. That ties directly into KC Rising’s long-term vision of a vibrant, thriving economic ecosystem here in the metro area.”
The regional Gateways for Growth initiative—GatewaysKC—is led by the Mid-America Regional Council, which has organized a steering committee of representatives from business, local government, education, faith communities, nonprofits, and local economic development agencies. GatewaysKC is closely aligned with KC Rising, a partnership between the Civic Council of Greater Kansas City, the Kansas City Area Development Council and the Mid-America Regional Council, which works to strengthen the regional economy by focusing on three key economic drivers: trade, people, and ideas.
At the launch event, Betsy Cohen, executive director for the St. Louis Mosaic Project, shared an overview of her city’s initiative, which has been recognized as a national model to attract and retain immigrants. St Louis aims to achieve the fastest immigration growth rate among U.S. metro areas by 2020. Kate Brick, NAE’s associate director of state and local initiatives, and Isha Lee, chief network officer at Welcoming America, presented an overview of the national Gateways for Growth initiative and its support for metropolitan Kansas City’s work.
Dr. Donna K. Ginther, director of the Center for Science, Technology and Economic Policy at the University of Kansas Institute for Policy and Social Research, presented the findings of “Economic Impact of Immigration in the Kansas City and the Bi-State Region,” a recent study prepared by the Institute and commissioned by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.
A panel of local leaders, including Bernard Franklin, PhD, assistant vice president for student life at Kansas State University (Olathe); Hillary Singer, executive director for Jewish Vocational Services; Angela Ferguson, attorney with Austin and Ferguson; and Chris Gould, director for global talent acquisition and mobility at Black & Veatch also spoke.