Immigration to the Rescue in Michigan

It came as no surprise in mid-July when the City of Detroit announced it was filing for bankruptcy. It had been a long time coming.

In its glory days, Detroit was the symbol of American industrial might and the economic engine of the Midwest. Demand for its products – mostly cars and trucks – kept millions employed in Michigan and several neighboring states, lifting generations of workers out of poverty and into the middle class. Higher oil prices and increased international competition began to change that picture in the 1970s, and the city began a long downward slide.

Detroit may be down, but shrewd observers know better than to count it out. Why? As we’ve reported previously, there’s an emerging recognition among Michigan’s political and business leaders that dire circumstances require innovative solutions, the kind of outside-the-box thinking that immigrants have brought to this country for centuries. [See Imported from Detroit: Rationality in Immigration Policy, MurthyBlog, 28.July.2011.] Instead of viewing immigration as a threat, Michigan’s leaders understand the wealth of opportunities immigrants bring, and their potential to spur growth.

According to the American Immigration Council (AIC), Michigan is among several states in the industrial Northeast and Midwest that have implemented forward-looking policies to welcome immigrants – and especially immigrant entrepreneurs – with open arms. [See Michigan: Immigrant Entrepreneurs, Innovation, and Welcoming Initiatives, Immigration Policy Center, American Immigration Council, 19.Jul.2013.] A statewide initiative called Welcoming Michigan supports local efforts to integrate immigrants into their communities, and thereby “creates the kind of welcoming environment essential for economic growth in a global economy,” as its director, Steve Tobocman, told AIC.

Another program, Global Michigan, works to attract immigrants to Michigan “to study, settle, and innovate.” As AIC reports:

“Among its various activities, Global Michigan works on strategies to attract talent to Michigan companies, retain university graduates, improve pathways for small business investment, connect immigrant business investors with local economic development, optimize the EB5 investor program, and advocate for a more efficient H1B visa program for high-skilled foreign workers.”

Not to be outdone, Detroit has its own initiative, Global Detroit, designed to make the city more welcoming to immigrants. By attracting more newcomers from overseas, city leaders hope to repopulate the city and reinvigorate the local economy. As AIC statistics demonstrate, these hopes are well founded. It notes that “immigrant entrepreneurs contribute significantly to Michigan’s economy,” and provides several examples to bolster its claim:

  • “From 2006 to 2010, immigrants founded 30,223 businesses in Michigan, and in 2010, 10.4 percent of all business owners in Michigan were foreign-born.”
  • “In 2010, new immigrant business owners had total business income of $1.8 billion, which is 9.2 percent of all business income in the state.”
  • “Michigan’s foreign-born were more than three times as likely as the native-born population to start a new business between 1996 and 2007.”
  • “32.8 percent of high-tech startups in Michigan between 1990 and 2005 had an immigrant founder… Michigan’s immigrants are six times more likely to start a high-tech firm than U.S.-born residents.”

At this point, neither Detroit nor the rest of Michigan can afford to look to the past; there’s no point crying over spilled milk, or refighting the battles of the past: the old industries will never be what they once were. Moving forward means embracing a post-industrial future, and attracting the world’s best and brightest to help build the growth industries of tomorrow. With its many initiatives to welcome immigrants and encourage entrepreneurship, Michigan is positioning itself to catch the next wave of growth. Expect other rust-belt states to follow suit.

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Disclaimer: The information provided here is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific or particular circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice nor presumed indefinitely up to date.