By Christina Pope
As we wrap up 2015 and return to our work, a highlight of the year comes to mind: the National Immigrant Integration Conference (NIIC). Many Welcoming Economies Global Network (WE Global) members came together for the phenomenal event held in Brooklyn in December. It’s always great to catch up with peers and take away new learnings and connections at the NIIC, but this time I was particularly struck by a sense of momentum for the year ahead and was energized by WE Global’s strong presence on the national stage. From panel sessions to report releases to networking events, WE Global was everywhere and immigrant economic development was a prominent thread throughout the conference.
In packed sessions on employer engagement, multi-sector strategic planning efforts, and welcoming community standards, WE Global members contributed their expertise in immigrant economic development. The interest of attendees in those rooms was palpable; as WE Global members shared best practices from across the Rust Belt, audience members furiously scribbled notes and asked questions to see how they could apply new strategies to their own communities.
In partnership with World Education Services and IMPRINT, WE Global hosted a gathering on the Sunday evening before the first full day of the NIIC, following a special session on the costs of “brain waste”—the unemployment and underemployment of college-educated immigrants. The session and cocktail party drew a large and diverse crowd, one that our national partners characterized as “unprecedented” for an event centered on highly-skilled immigrants, let alone on a Sunday night.
Also during the NIIC, the White House Task Force on New Americans shared their one-year progress report to President Obama detailing their accomplishments in 2015. A core element of this interagency effort has always been economic integration of new Americans, and the Task Force made several key strides on this front in 2015 – their one-pager provides a snapshot of their economic integration actions. The report recognized several WE Global members for their innovative programs and approach, including work underway by the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians, Michigan Office for New Americans, Upwardly Global, Global Detroit, International Institute of St. Louis, St. Louis Mosaic Project, and the City of Pittsburgh.
As more communities join the White House Task Force’s Building Welcoming Communities Campaign answering the President’s call to engage in local immigrant integration efforts, the BWCC map is getting crowded in the WE Global region. In fact, over a third of the participating local governments are in the WE Global footprint.
Immigrant welcoming and economic development work is strong and growing in our region, as evidenced at NIIC and by the Building Welcoming Communities Campaign. WE Global members continue to develop innovative strategies at the local level that are influencing national policy and initiatives to tap into economic opportunities created by immigrants across the country. I look forward to building on our momentum and seeing all we accomplish together in 2016.