Relationships Built in Dayton Strengthen Network and Work Moving Forward

By Steve Tobocman, Director, Global Detroit

DSC_0059The Third Annual Welcoming Economies Global Network (WE Global) Convening in Dayton was our best yet, demonstrating the growth and momentum of WE Global and immigrant economic development.  The Convening has grown to 300 local economic development, local and state government, and nonprofit leaders from nearly 25 communities across the Rust Belt.


The hallmark of a WE Global event is rooted in the relationships that are built and the connections that are made to further our work. At the 2nd Annual Convening in Pittsburgh, Ohio members of WE Global made significant DSC_0064 copyconnections that produced a burgeoning Ohio Cities Network over this past year. This year there were meetings among groups from upstate New York. While the substantive content of the panels and sessions continued to frame the Convening, this year’s WE Global conference was most characterized by the relationships, friendships, and connections built.

It’s not only the new relationships sparked that remind me why this annual gathering is so useful. I was able to spend time reconnecting with other professionals that are pioneering strategies to empower immigrants in their region. Many of these individuals share in the challenges that Global Detroit faced when it launched in 2010—creating ambitious and innovative programming without much guidance. As these initiatives grow and change, the ability to reconnect and learn from new and old friends, hear about what worked and what didn’t, and new ideas on the horizon has made the Convening the pinnacle event to reflect upon our work and develop course corrections, as well as new programmatic insights.

Guide-to-IED1-231x300This year’s WE Global Convening included the release of Welcoming America’s Guide to Immigrant Economic Development, a first attempt to provide local and state economic development practitioners, local chambers, local government officials, and nonprofit organizations with an overview of the innovations being implemented in entrepreneurship programming, workforce development, housing, urban agriculture, foreign direct investment and trade, as well as integration. This guide will assist local policy and economic development leaders who have a sense that new immigrants and refugees could benefit their communities in developing tangible and innovative approaches to connecting these newcomers to local needs and opportunities.

While the Dayton Convening attracted the attention of the White House and enjoyed keynote remarks from Felicia Escobar, President Obama’s chief immigration policy advisor, the group continues its focus on the local and state efforts that build upon the contributions that immigrants and refugees make to the Rust Belt. David Kallick, Senior Fellow at the Fiscal Policy Institute, shared research with the convening that immigrant business owners account for nearly half of all the growth in business ownership between 2000 to 2013, and all of the growth in Main Street business in 31 of the country’s 50 largest metropolitan areas.

Steve Tobocman, Director of Global Detroit, has been a driving force behind the WE Global Network since conversations among regional immigrant economic development leaders began in 2012 and resulted in the initial Convening in Detroit in 2013. Steve serves on the Leadership Team for the Network, co-facilitates the Steering Committee, and executes program and resource development. Global Detroit, in partnership with Welcoming America, staffs the Network and executes its mission.

Sharing Immigrant Economic Development Expertise from Across the Region

Many people learn most successfully through interaction and discussion of problems and solutions with peers, rather than simply reading a research paper or engaging in self-reflection. That’s what made the Getting started in Immigrant Economic Development: Sharing Immigrant Economic Development Experiences from Across the Region panel at the recent WE Global Network 3rd Annual Convening in Dayton so beneficial; it was a discussion, an active learning experience made effective by the experience and knowledge of its attendees.

Celebrating the release of Welcoming America’s Guide to Immigrant Economic Development, a publication dedicated to helping local economic development practitioners, local government, immigrant welcoming partners, refugee resettlement agencies, and others implement and hone immigrant economic development programs, the Getting Started panel explored ways in which organizations can bring an economic lens to integration efforts. Facilitated by WE Global Leadership Team members Susan Downs-Karkos, Director of Strategic Partnership, Welcoming America, and Steve Tobocman, Director, Global Detroit, the panel focused on four important chapters from the guide – Homeownership, Entrepreneurship, Highly Skilled Workers, and Workforce – with a roundtable discussion for each. Attendees spent 15-20 minutes discussing each topic with peers.

This local perspectives is what made the panel so valuable. A facilitator was present to stimulate conversation, but each discussion was steered by those who sat at the designated tables for each topic. The outcome and nature of those discussions were fully determined by the participants and conversation could flow in any direction.

One conversation at the Entrepreneurship table focused on the difficulties of refugee entrepreneurs; how can economic advice be provided to struggling refugees when entrepreneurship service providers don’t fully appreciate the plight of those they wish to serve? Cultural and personal understanding must be achieved before progress can be made the table’s participants agreed. Another group discussed the feasibility of entrepreneurial mentoring between immigrants. What reason, beyond compassion, would an immigrant business owner have to help a potential competitor get going?

These were but a few of the discussions that came from the roundtables. Interesting and worthwhile questions were asked, and while there was not time to create solutions for all of them, progress was made. Just as valuable are the connections made among peers; business cards were swapped, and Convening attendees fostered relationships with others navigating the same waters. Attendees were tapping into one of their most valuable resources: their peers.

The Getting Started panel and Guide provide practitioners new to the field a framework for lasting work in immigrant economic development. The relationships sparked will be built upon and open avenues for attendees’ continued exchange of effective practices. The panel could end up being as much as a meeting between future partners; and at the very least, it was fun and informative. The WE Global Network Convening was fortunate enough to have 15 interesting, engaging, and informative panels, and it is discussions like those in the Getting Started panel that help foster a collaborative environment for immigrant economic development work to grow.

Dusting off the Rust

Rust Belt Ingenuity Fuels Inclusion and Prosperity: Reflections on the 3rd Annual WE Global Convening 

By Rachel Peric, Deputy Director, Welcoming America

The Rust Belt region of the U.S. is known for innovations that shaped and powered the 20th century. Today, the pragmatism and inventiveness that define the region are pioneering a new and creative force for prosperity in the 21st century – welcoming communities. Across the Midwest, a set of pioneering regional economic development initiatives are working to tap into the economic development opportunities created by immigrants.

These innovative efforts were showcased July 9th in Dayton, Ohio, where more than 300 individuals leading efforts throughout the region gathered at the Welcoming Economies (WE) Global Network Convening, the third annual event of its kind. Welcoming America and Global Detroit partnered with Welcome Dayton, Dayton Human Relations Council, and City of Dayton to host this year’s Convening, a gathering of immigrant economic development professionals working in cities and regions across the Midwest. Welcoming America also serves as the corporate home for the WE Global Network, in partnership with Global Detroit.

Dayton was a fitting location for the event. The city’s efforts to create a more welcoming community through the Welcome Dayton initiative have been recognized nationally and a new report by the Partnership for a New American Economy shows how those efforts have been paying off for the city. Welcome to Dayton: How Immigrants are Helping to Grow Dayton’s Economy and Reverse Population Decline highlights how Dayton has reaps the benefits of its immigrant economic development efforts. “Immigrants inject new life into our neighborhoods, they patronize and create local businesses, and they contribute to our state and local communities tax bases,” said Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley.

Felicia Escobar, Special Assistant to the President for Immigration Policy, discussed how Dayton’s efforts are inspiring other localities and are the subject of new efforts by the federal government to support the efforts of communities to engage and integrate new Americans.
Other highlights from the event included:

  • Researcher David Kallick of the Fiscal Policy Institute discussed the contributions of immigrants on Main Street, where 28% of businesses are owned by the foreign-born. No city has successfully grown without attracting and retaining immigrants, Kallick shared.
  • Paul Costigan of the International Institute of St. Louis, Danielle Drake of US Together Cleveland, and Herman Nyamunga of the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians joined Susan Downs Karkos of Welcoming America for a panel highlighting innovative partnerships for advancing the success and economic contributions of refugee communities.
  • A number of sessions tackled the spectrum of challenges and opportunities in higher education – from engaging more colleges and universities to retaining international students after graduation.
  • Members of the IMPRINT coalition shared strategies on working with highly skilled immigrant populations, addressing issues like re-credentialing and workforce system collaboration.

Welcoming America also released its new Guide to Immigrant Economic Development, written by Steve Tobocman of Global Detroit and with numerous contributing profiles that feature cutting-edge efforts throughout the Midwest and beyond.

Henry Ford once said, “don’t find fault, find a remedy.” As the nation confronts the sticky politics of immigration and the region wrestles with economic hardship, we at Welcoming America take inspiration from the leaders of this region who have injected a Midwestern pragmatism into both conversations, and have focused on positive solutions that are both yielding results and inspiring a growing field of practice.

In an era when innovation is prized, we can once again look to the Midwest to fuel America – this time, fueling our ability to remain a globally competitive and inclusive nation that derives strength from our growing diversity.


Rachel Peric serves as Deputy Director of Welcoming America, where she guides programs and organizational strategy. In partnership with Global Detroit, Welcoming America is the corporate home for the WE Global Network.   The Welcoming Economies (WE) Global Network is a regional Network of immigrant economic development organizations working in cities and regions across the Midwest. Welcoming America helps communities across the country achieve prosperity by becoming more welcoming toward immigrants and all residents. 






Welcoming America’s Guide to Immigrant Economic Development Released

Are you looking to start an initiative to spark growth in your city and local economy by better integrating immigrants and the skills, entrepreneurial spirit, talent, and energy they bring to local economies?

Or maybe you want to enhance an existing immigrant economic development effort?

Welcoming America’s new Guide to Immigrant Economic Development provides guidance for building or growing a regional infrastructure to welcome, support, nurture, and integrate immigrants and refugees in your region in a manner that can both create more meaningful opportunities for immigrants and refugees, and that can provide tangible benefits and opportunities to receiving communities.  This guide showcases the role immigrants play in economic growth, job creation, and prosperity for their community. Chapters contain best practices, strategies, and models that can inform those working in the fields of economic development and immigrant integration.

The Guide responds to the growing demand from communities looking to start or enhance an initiative to spark growth in their city and local economy by better integrating immigrants and the skills, entrepreneurial spirit, talent, and energy they bring to local economies. As more communities in the Rust Belt recognize the value of immigrants to their local economies, this guide can provide a framework to help them develop their own initiatives based on their local needs and infrastructure.

The Guide’s 14 chapters: 

  1. Getting Started
  2. Entrepreneurship
  3. International Student Retention
  4. Workforce Development
  5. Highly-Skilled Worker Initiatives
  6. Connector Programs
  7. Rural Development
  8. Immigrant Investor Visas
  9. Export Promotion
  10. Corporate Diversity and Inclusion
  11. Encouraging Homeownership
  12. Urban Agriculture
  13. Integration Services

Check out the Guide to Immigrant Economic Development by visiting:

Welcome Dayton Reflections on the 2015 WE Global Network Convening

Melissa Bertolo has served as Welcome Dayton’s Program Coordinator since 2012, more than half of the initiatives lifespan, and was the first full time employee to work on the immigrant friendly initiative.  Over the past three years, Melissa has furthered the city’s efforts to improve integration of immigrants and refugees into the Dayton community and collaborates with cross-sector partners to further drive the work being done. She provides staff support to the City Commission appointed working committee, which has six active sub-committees and has engaged in multiple projects to create a more immigrant friendly community.  Melissa was the lead coordinator in Dayton of the 3rd Annual Convening, and her commitment to providing an engaging and informative day and highlighting the many successes of Dayton’s welcoming and integration efforts were apparent and appreciated by all.

Hosting the Welcoming Economies (WE) Global Network Third Annual Convening was truly an honor for Welcome Dayton. Bringing together 300 people from across the region allowed us to both showcase our work as well as deepen our understanding and connection to best practices throughout the country.

Did you know that Welcome Dayton kicked the convening off on Wednesday with the Ohio Welcoming Initiatives? Representatives from CincinnatiDaytonColumbusToledo-Lucas CountyCleveland, and Akron met at the Dayton Human Relations Council with a full agenda to discuss opportunities to collaborate and learn from each other. We were incredibly lucky to be able to host national partners, including Amanda Bergson-Shilcock (National Skills Coalition), Katherine Gebremedhin and Sylvia Rusin (IMPRINT).

“Ohio is taking the lead to work collaboratively throughout the state to serve the immigrant and refugee communities to ensure a welcoming environment. It’s important that we have this network of cities as we collaborate on state-wide initiatives, including workforce development and the Ohio Board of Regents’ international student retention initiative,” said Guadalupe Velasquez, Assistant Director of the Community Relations Commission.

Hosting the WE Global Convening provided opportunities to deepen our work by holding additional meetings like this one throughout the three-day event. In addition to the Ohio Welcoming Initiatives Meeting, Steve Tobocman and Karen Phillippi from Global Detroit met with representatives from local universities and the Welcome Dayton Business & Economic Development sub-committee to discuss international student retention strategies. For Welcome Dayton, one of the biggest outcomes of hosting the convening was the opportunity to build stronger relationships between initiatives and this meeting definitely represented that.

We kicked Thursday morning off in high-gear with on-site registrations topping out at 300 people! This was the largest WE Global Network Convening to date, and hearing our keynote speaker Felicia Escobar, Special Assistant to the President for Immigration Policy, give thanks to Dayton for being a model as a welcoming community was definitely a highlight!

Melissa Katy“It is exciting for Dayton to be a leader in immigrant integration because it demonstrates the fact that the community understands the importance of diversity and how it positively impacts the economy for all those who live, work, play and gather in the city,” said Catherine Crosby, Executive Director of the City of Dayton’s Human Relations Council.

With 15 different breakout sessions, it was definitely difficult to choose which workshops to attend. Having City of Dayton representatives (myself, Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl and Planning & Community Development Director Aaron Sorrel) on three different panels truly highlights that Welcome Dayton is not just a special project, but something that is integrated into the work throughout the city government. Furthermore, the high participation of Welcome Dayton Committee members truly demonstrates the support and commitment from the community.

The convening on Thursday closed with a special recognition of Tom Wahlrab. Tom is often cited as the founder of Welcome Dayton, although he will always be the first to recognize the importance of the community’s involvement and participation. Of his recognition, Tom remarked, “It has to do with appreciating the community’s acknowledgement of my role. The larger picture is that four years after the initiative started, community members find ways to welcome and open their hearts to not only immigrants, but all of their neighbors. Welcome Dayton has helped us all see each other more clearly.”

Many people left Thursday with heads full of new ideas and opportunities to collaborate, but for the WE Global Network, another full day was still ahead. A network members-only day provided the opportunity for the network to learn collectively on a few key issues, including evaluation, communications and policy. As Catherine Crosby noted, “The Welcoming Economies Convening provided one more opportunity for the Dayton Human Relations Council to advance its mission of ensuring fairness, equity and opportunity for all.”

This post originally appeared on Welcome Dayton.

Rust Belt Cities Embrace Immigrants as Key to Future

White House Joins Over 300 Rust Belt Leaders to Celebrate Innovations in Immigrant Welcoming, Integration, Urban Revitalization and Economic Development

White House official will keynote the 3rd Annual Welcoming Economies (WE) Global Network Convening. A growing number of Rust Belt cities are embracing immigrants as a means of revitalizing urban neighborhoods and spurring local economic growth, and will be participating in this year’s Dayton Convening. As a more welcoming approach to immigration spreads quickly across the Rust Belt – and pays off for local economies – a new field of practice is picking up steam.

The WE Global Network Convening in Dayton reveals the momentum that the field of immigrant economic development is experiencing. The number of local initiatives participating in this year’s Convening has more than doubled since the initial Convening in Detroit only two years ago. Attracting attention of the White House and national experts, the Convening’s expected attendance demonstrates the WE Global Network’s value and the Rust Belt’s position as a national leader in efforts to attract and retain global talent.

Keynote speaker Felicia Escobar, White House Special Assistant to President Obama for Immigration Policy, who played a key role in the creation and implementation of the first-ever federal immigrant integration policy, will speak about the White House Task Force on New Americans. Ms. Escobar’s attendance demonstrates the White House’s recognition of the WE Global Network and the work of local initiatives across the Rust Belt.

More than 250 attendees from across the country are expected at the Convening, which takes place all day Thursday, July 9th at the Dayton Convention Center. Hosted by Welcoming America, Welcome Dayton, the City of Dayton, City of Dayton Human Relations Council, and Global Detroit, it includes numerous workshops and panels designed to highlight cutting edge policies, successful programs, and innovative ideas in the emerging field of immigrant economic development.

Priority areas for the day’s sessions mirror Welcome Dayton’s five focus areas – including business and economic development, community culture and arts, education, government and justice, and health and social services – that guide Dayton’s immigrant integration work. “We believe we have something for cities and economic development leaders across the Rust Belt at this year’s convening,” said Melissa Bertolo, Welcome Dayton Program Coordinator. “The list of speakers represents the nation’s leaders in this emerging field of immigrant economic development.”

The Welcome Dayton initiative has been credited with reversing population decline, boosting economic competitiveness and vitality, and expanding opportunities for an increasingly diverse community. According to a report released today by the Partnership for a New American Economy, “Welcome to Dayton: How Immigrants are Helping to Grow Dayton’s Economy and Reverse Population Decline,” Dayton has really reaped the benefits of its immigrant economic development efforts. Dayton’s immigrants show exceptionally high rates of entrepreneurship (15.3% are self employed, over twice the average for their native-born counterparts), and possessed more than $115 million in spending power and contributed more than $15 million in state and local taxes annually. The PNAE report underscores why Dayton is the perfect backdrop for hosting the WE Global Network’s 3rd Convening and the growing movement of leaders pursuing immigrant economic development opportunities for their communities.

“Welcoming America is excited to use the WE Global Convening to release the first-ever Guide to Immigrant Economic Development,” said Welcoming America Director David Lubell. Authored by Global Detroit Director Steve Tobocman, the guide “Responds to the growing demand from communities looking to start or enhance an initiative to spark growth in their city and local economy by better integrating immigrants and the skills, entrepreneurial spirit, talent, and energy they bring to local economies,” added Lubell. As more communities in the Rust Belt recognize the value of immigrants to their local economies, this guide, and the Convening, can provide a framework to help them develop their own initiatives based on their local needs and infrastructure.