Revitalizing Detroit Through Immigration: Michigan’s Next Steps

Detroit was once the poster child for hidebound bureaucracy, a place where creative new ideas went to die. Now, Detroit is increasingly the place to be for policy wonks of every stripe, and not just the usual cast of liberal academics; Tea Party favorite, Rand Paul (R-KY), has been shopping around his idea to rebuild Detroit through immigrant entrepreneurship, by setting a lower threshold for EB5 investors. [See Detroit’s Bankruptcy: Rand Paul’s $50,000 Idea, MurthyBlog, 20.Dec.2013.]

With less fanfare and more substantive long-term effort, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has been pushing forward-looking policies that would harness immigration in the service of regional redevelopment. [See Michigan Governor Seeks 50,000 EB2 Visas for Detroit, MurthyBlog, 27.Jan.2014.]

Now comes word that Governor Snyder has opened an Office for New Americans in Michigan, and appointed its first director: an Indonesian-American entrepreneur named Bing Goei, who made his fortune in the flower business, according to an article in Crain’s Detroit Business. In a recent interview, Mr. Goei told Crain’s that “…by the year 2018, we have to have about 274,000 jobs in the STEM field filled” – and because Michigan will not have enough STEM grads to do so, Mr. Goei said, Governor Snyder is looking to the EB2 and EB5 immigration programs to fill the void. [See State Immigration Office Goal: Fill 274,000 Jobs in STEM Fields by ’18, by Chris Gautz, Crain’s Detroit Business, 09.Mar.2014.] According to Goei, the governor wants “to use these visa programs as a way of repopulating the city of Detroit.”

The thinking behind Michigan’s immigration strategy is straightforward: immigration means jobs – and not just for immigrants. As Goei told Crain’s Detroit Business, studies show that “for every STEM graduate, if they stay here, they will create 2.5 new jobs for American-born residents.” His case for immigration is persuasive:

“Immigration is an economic strategy. It is not a zero-sum game. It’s not immigrants win and the U.S.-born people lose. We bring in new investment, we bring in new talents, we bring in new businesses and we also allow for existing businesses to have the type of talent needed for them to grow. It brings in many, many more opportunities for jobs for residents in the United States.”

The research bears this out. A study from the University of Denver, cited in a recent American Immigration Council factsheet, found that “an increasing number of immigrants moving to an area leads to significantly higher employment growth and a decline in the unemployment rate.” [See Immigrant Entrepreneurs and Innovators Across the United States, American Immigration Council (AIC), 11.Mar.2014.]

Michigan’s policy wonks seem to have discovered the link between immigration and innovation – the “secret sauce” that makes Silicon Valley so successful – and they want to bring that kind of high-tech prosperity home to Detroit. One wonders how long it will take other jurisdictions to wake up to the benefits of immigration!

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