Last Friday, September 16, marked the start of this year’s Welcoming Week, an initiative of Welcoming America, which connects local leaders, non-profits, and civic organizations to create inclusive policies and programs aimed at welcoming and integrating newcomers into local communities. Last year, more than 22,000 people participated in Welcoming Week through 245 events in more than 80 communities across the country—from naturalization ceremonies, to cooking demonstrations, to community discussions.
Since then, NAE has partnered with Welcoming America to build upon the growing momentum of local engagement on immigrant integration by launching the Gateways for Growth Initiative (G4G). In December 2015, communities across the United States were invited to apply for support for the development and implementation of strategic plans for welcoming and integrating New Americans. In the end, 20 cities and regions were selected and, as the initiative has progressed, communities as diverse as Anchorage, Detroit, Salt Lake County, and San José have all begun formulating or launching their own strategic plans with technical assistance and research support from NAE and Welcoming America.
One of the first communities to receive research support, Salt Lake County, has already made significant progress. In March, NAE provided hard evidence of how immigrants are contributing to the region’s economy—to the tune of $8 billion to the area’s GDP and $2.3 billion in spending power, which helped build the case for the creation of the New Americans Task Force. This task force, led by the Salt Lake county government and the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce, is charged with making further recommendations and implementing a comprehensive welcoming strategy for the region. It now includes over 100 representatives from local government, business, the faith community, and education.
This year’s Welcoming Week promises to bring together even more people at more than 270 events nationwide until the week’s conclusion on September 25, including events in many of this year’s G4G awardee communities: a movie screening in Detroit, a resource fair for immigrant-owned small businesses in Pittsburgh, a lunchtime talk with the Mayor of Anchorage about the economic potential of immigrants and refugees.
These events highlight the cultural and economic contributions of immigrants in local communities, but also call attention to how municipal governments can do more to create welcoming environments to ensure that all community members—both native and immigrant—can prosper together.