When Dayton announced its Welcome Dayton Plan last month, it met with mixed reviews from the public. This was hardly surprising since the topic of immigration is currently a hot button issue in the United States. As the country is still struggling to regain its economic footing the subject of immigrant job seekers is and has been a particularly touchy one. Because of this strong stigma, the Welcome Dayton Plan may face its share of difficulty.
According to Mayor Gary Leitzell – who is himself an immigrant from England – the majority response to the Welcome Dayton Plan has been quite positive. “It’s so simple, it makes sense, all of the people that we’re trying to facilitate are already here anyway,” he said. The mayor added that those opposed to the plan seem to be those who are anti-Hispanic. The complaints he’s received regarding the plan have raised concerns over Dayton becoming a haven for illegal Hispanic immigrants.
However, Welcome Dayton is aimed at legal immigrants only. If an immigrant job seeker or business wants to find their place in Dayton, they have to go through all the verification processes. The word “immigrant” has become tied to the idea of Hispanic or Latino immigrants. However, Dayton has more than just one type of immigrant. A great example is our Ahiska Turk (or Meskhetian Turk) population that has been around for many years and continues to grow. Dayton also regularly receives refugee immigrants from many different countries.
“let’s come up with something to attract immigrants, and therefore attract entrepreneurs…” – Gary Leitzell
Mayor Gary Leitzell said that earlier this year as he and his staff began looking at immigrant statistics in Dayton, they realized the city’s immigrant population was incredibly diverse. In addition to Ahiska Turks, Hispanics and Latinos, the city is also home to people from Nigeria, Libya, Sudan, Iraq, Bosnia, Philippines, and Korea to name a few. “So we basically said let’s come up with something to attract immigrants, and therefore attract entrepreneurs, and come up with a plan that would facilitate their success in Dayton,” said Mayor Leitzell. The decision was influenced by the success the Ahiska Turk population has had as well as immigrant-related research and statistics. The committees were then formed to do just that and they drafted the Welcome Dayton Plan. Mayor Leitzell noted that the plan is a working one and is open and subject to change as new ideas or needs arise.
When it comes down to it, Dayton is on its way to becoming a very diverse population. The Welcome Dayton Plan seeks to make the most of this increasing population resource for all parties involved. But the question is, does Dayton really want to be recognized as an immigrant friendly city? The answer may very well be yes. With big businesses like GM and NCR leaving the state, Ohio has seen not only a revenue loss but also a population decrease as people migrate to other states looking for jobs. Greaterohio.org has a good layout of this data and the immigrant population here. The Welcome Dayton Plan’s report notes that government studies – such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s report “Immigration Myths and Facts: Labor, Immigration & Employee Benefits Division” – have shown areas with similar economic issues have been rejuvenated with the influx of immigrant business and workers. They brought in jobs and money to these areas. Immigrant entrepreneurship could be a critical tool in the fight to stop the loss of business and profit in Dayton.
At its most basic level, the plan is designed to entice immigrant business and workers to Dayton by making itself immigrant friendly. This means Dayton will begin a two-way education campaign. One end will be aimed at immigrant entrepreneurs educating them on supportive resources to help reduce potential barriers to their integration. Specifically, access to and help understanding government services, laws, and health services. In example, there was a suggestion to put up a website regarding these services for the immigrants to easily access the information. Also recommended is a team of volunteers and public agency workers to help immigrants in their job searches and the process of opening a business. The other end will be aimed at current residents emphasizing the benefits of cultural diversity, immigrant business, and cross-cultural communication.
You might have noticed the mention of the word ‘volunteer.’ Some of this plan depends on community support in the form of volunteer services – the most important service being translation. For the Limited English Proficient (LEP), the plan suggests providing language services like ESL classes and translation support. Translation of both cultural mannerisms and linguistics are some of the largest barriers immigrants and non-immigrants face when it comes to integration.
Volunteering as an interpreter may simply require that you have a number at which you can be easily reached. If there’s an issue late in the night and an interpreter is needed, you may be able to fulfill your function from home through the telephone. Volunteerism could also keep more of the city’s budget in the black as it works to implement the plan, although some positions will be an expansion on current public jobs with a small stipend for the extra work. Now more than ever, being bilingual is an essential asset to any business and we can expect to see more job openings looking specifically for multi-lingual workers in banking, law enforcement, healthcare, and more. For college students wanting more real-world experience, or something nice to put on their resumes, volunteering as an interpreter could be for you.
The plan’s report also mentions the possibility of turning East Third Street in Dayton into an international marketplace. Mayor Gary Leitzell said that his vision is to open up space for a weekly open-air market. He believes selling in the proposed market could provide immigrants with the means to earn around $500 each month; which the mayor noted was typically the difference between owning and renting a house. So far, he’s received permission from Sandy Mendelson – who owns 70% of the large parking lot and the building behind the Webster Market – to set up the outdoor market at Third and Webster. The same rules that apply to Turtle Creek Market and Traders World would also apply to the International Market. This market could bring in more money from the suburbs and other areas as they seek out new flavors, decorations, and the like.
“Everyone needs to be open-minded and realize that when we talk about immigrants, we’re focused on a global aspect and if we can attract people from all cultures and all cultures, then we will increase the flavor that is Dayton,” said Mayor Leitzell. “Let’s realize that anyone who comes here from another country […] comes to America usually with a very open mind and the American dream in their head and they see America as the land of opportunity. And it turns out that a foreign born national is two times more likely to succeed as a small business than somebody that’s native born here.” He noted that not all immigrant workers will focus on small business. Many immigrants come over with specialized degrees that could benefit open positions in Dayton that lack qualified applicants. Perhaps the reason more of the qualified immigrant workers fail to obtain these jobs is due to a lack of understanding how to search for and apply to these jobs.
I’ve heard some people complain that it seems like Dayton will be bending over backwards for the immigrant businesses. I’d like to point out that cities and even states do more for big American businesses – typically including significant tax cuts – just to get them in their area. Big businesses don’t always invest as much in their locales as smaller businesses might because they aren’t terribly dependant on their locations. Especially with outsourcing being such a popular and cheap option.
For those of you still not convinced on the benefits of this plan, keep this in mind. New businesses pay rent, buy groceries, pay taxes, pay for utilities, buy furnishings, pay for construction work, and provide jobs directly and indirectly. New positions will be opening up in the coming years for workers with multiple language skills and to help set up or run services that provide support for immigrant businesses and workers. It’s important to remember the potential percentage of money that will be injected back into Dayton through any new local business. The more successful they are, the more they might spend to improve their business and expand.
There are still more facts, figures, and components included in the plan that I can’t cover here. I highly recommend that readers take a look at the easy to read plan for themselves here: http://www.daytonohio.gov/welcomedaytonreport.