2016 Convening Perspective: Q&A with the Hosts

Last month, Welcoming Economies Global Network (WE Global) brought together some 300 leaders in immigrant economic development for our 2016 Convening in Philadelphia.  The Convening included workshops to highlight cutting edge policies, successful programs, and innovative ideas that welcome, retain, and empower immigrants as valued contributors to our economies.  The Convening was co-hosted by the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians and City of Philadelphia Office of Immigrant Affairs. We caught up with Welcoming Center’s Rebecca Rathje and Nicole Pumphrey, and Office of Immigrant Affairs’ Hani White and Miriam Enriquez to get their take on the Convening, and how hosting will provide momentum to the work in Philadelphia.

1. What inspired you to host the 2016 Convening?

Rebecca: Greater Philadelphia has resurfaced as a destination of choice for immigrants and refugees from across the globe. Here in Philly, a rich network of cross-sector services specifically designed to address the challenges and highlight the assets of newcomers has helped the Philadelphia metro area generate a strong welcoming environment that we’re very proud of. This rich ecosystem tells the WE Global Network story, and I think made Philly the perfect place to host, to share what we’ve learned, and move the work and Network forward.

Miriam: One of our great partners, the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians, put in for Philadelphia to be the host.  There was agreement from then Mayor-elect Kenney.  We were inspired by the work that has been done in the past.  This was a wonderful opportunity for Philadelphia to highlight our great work.

Hani: We Global Network’s work is really impressive, and we are glad that we could host this year, and we were inspired to share our amazing work in City of Philadelphia with others.

2. What was your most inspiring moment of the Convening?

Nikki: When we initially applied to be the host city, we wanted to be able to highlight the work being done locally and to engage as many partners as possible.  For us, it was important to uplift those organizations making change at the neighborhood level.  It was inspiring to see more than 20 community-based organizations in 5 neighborhoods come together to host to more than 100 people!

Miriam: I was inspired by the great speakers – Anne O’Callaghan, Osagie Imasogie, and Yasmine Mustafa, and all of the different perspectives on why immigrant integration is so important and the contributions immigrants bring to the local and national economy.

3. What did you learn that will be useful in your work moving forward?

Nikki: A few sessions provided tools on how to best weave the story of immigrant integration into mainstream economic development and workforce development strategies.  As an organization that is often trying to find and leverage this intersection, tools to be able to do this work (and identify additional opportunities) is valuable.

Miriam: The Increasing Civic Participation within Immigrant Communities session was helpful as a representative with a government office to learn different ways to continue to engage our immigrants in the civic process.

Hani: I would like to join with next cohort of Welcoming America’s Welcoming Communities Transatlantic Exchange, which is an opportunity to visit other cities, as the first cohort did when it went to Germany and hosted a German delegation earlier this year. Participants from the Transatlantic Exchange shared their takeaways, and Betsy Cohen (St. Louis Mosaic Project) expressed returning home feeling extremely connected to the work, and to the global refugee crisis, and motivated to continue working for positive change.

4. How do you feel this movement has changed over last 5 years?

Nikki: With new research emerging (like recent state-level reports from New American Economy and WE Global and Fiscal Policy Institute’s data showing that immigrants should be an important component of vacant and distressed housing revitalization), making the case that immigrants drive economic growth has become that much easier.  However, this election cycle and the current climate in the country has made abundantly clear that we live in a country divided.  There is hard work ahead to ensure that this nation remains a place for all in search of opportunity, where diversity is seen not as a threat, but an asset.

Miriam: Although I am new to this area of work, in the short time I have been here, there has been so much talk both nationally and locally about the contributions of immigrants to our economy.  Economic development and the economic contributions of our immigrant communities is an area that needs a brighter spotlight.  When people hear the real numbers, they are always amazed.  Convenings like this help in that effort.

Hani: The work of WE Global Network and its members is growing in an awesome direction as more people and organizations are getting involved. And most important that city and government official work hand in hand with nonprofits organization, CDFI, CDC, refugee resettlements, etc to elevate live quality of Immigrants

2016 Convening Perspective: Q&A with Member Betsy Cohen, St. Louis Mosaic Project

Last week, Welcoming Economies Global Network (WE Global) brought together some 300 leaders in immigrant economic development for our 2016 Convening in Philadelphia.  The convening included workshops to highlight cutting edge policies, successful programs, and innovative ideas that welcome, retain, and empower immigrants as valued contributors to our economies.  We caught up with WE Global member Betsy Cohen, executive director of St. Louis Mosaic Project, to get her take on the Convening, and how the network supports her local work in St. Louis.

Betsy Cohen of St. Louis Mosaic Project in front of mosaics at Latino arts and services center in Philly.

Q: Tell us about St. Louis Mosaic Project.

Betsy: The St. Louis Mosaic Project started in 2013 based on two research studies showing that the region needs to attract foreign-born individuals to grow its population and for economic and cultural benefits. Our mission is for the St. Louis region to be the fastest growing major metro for foreign-born by 2020, and just last month, American Community Survey 2015 data of the top 20 major metros ranked the St. Louis metro the fastest growing region for foreign-born – so we’re on the right track!

Mosaic is a regional public-private partnerships within the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership and the World Trade Center St. Louis. The Mosaic Steering Committee, comprised of community leaders in business, government, agencies, faith, and social services, has been key to this progress. In addition, the International Institute’s work resettling refugees and the energy of more than 100 other community partners has been instrumental in reaching our goal in 2020.


Q: What brought you to your first WE Global Network Convening?

Betsy: I went to Detroit in 2013 for the inaugural Convening to learn from Steve Tobocman and about the immigrant economic development work being led by Global Detroit and its partners. As this was then, and still is, an emerging field, I wanted to find a peer group with whom to build trust and knowledge, which I did. Through WE Global Network and Welcoming America, I can both share our learnings as well as send a quick note to my peers for guidance on various elements of our local efforts in St. Louis. No need to reinvent the wheel when we have shared experiences to learn from and build upon, resulting in more effective (and faster) outcomes.

Q: What was the most inspiring moment of the 2016 Convening?

Betsy: I liked hearing Mayor Jim Kenney’s take on what this movement means to Philadelphia, and how it correlated to what I saw during the neighborhood tours and visiting the Reading Terminal Market the day before. Hearing from a regional leader that this work is important to the region and then seeing firsthand how this translates on the ground locally in neighborhoods shows how important it is to work at all levels of the ecosystem. It inspired me to return to St. Louis to do more for our community by engaging leaders as well as working at the grassroots level.

Q: What strategies are you taking home to explore using in St. Louis?

Betsy: We saw some uses of the arts to connect U.S.-born and foreign-born residents that were unique and effective. Also, the new homeownership report and tool highlighting the role of immigrants in helping revitalize urban neighborhoods will support us in starting conversations in St. Louis with data and motivation. The numbers are impressive.

Q: As a WE Global member, what value have you received since joining the Network?

Participating in the Network helps us to see how we compare to other regions on issues like housing, refugee integration, or international student hiring, and identify areas for growth or change. Through relationships built within the Network, and gatherings like the Convening, we learn effective strategies and concrete examples of their effectiveness, which we can bring home and share with local stakeholders. Other member regions have similar challenges, and opportunities, to St. Louis’, so the strategies are more translatable than those coming our of traditional gateway cities or markets with high populations of foreign-born residents.  

Q: How do you feel this movement and the climate for this work has changed over last 5 years?

Betsy: As more communities join the welcoming banner, it adds strength to the approach even as national political discourse or our own state political discussions shift. It keeps us on a steady course for progress, and was not as certain five years ago. The momentum of the movement, which has grown immensely since 2010, strengthens our motivation and conviction to change minds, hearts, and legislation. Looking to 2017, I believe there will be clarity at the national level on the incorporation of welcoming activities into local inclusion work, and that will propel us forward even further. I’m sure all of us in different communities feel discouraged sometimes over negativity, but working together, sharing winning strategies, and being a part of the movement gives me hope for the future.

Q:  How does your community create a welcoming community?

Betsy: The immense level of support and funding from the public-private partnership gave a significant push to the launch of our flagship programs that create a welcoming community: Mosaic Ambassadors are individuals, schools, and companies committed to welcoming and creating a culture of inclusion; Professional Connectors make networking introductions for foreign-born job seekers; Immigrant Entrepreneur programs support local innovators and job creation; and International Student and Corporate Hiring community resources empower the future workforce. The International Institute of St. Louis recently moved to a larger facility with a true walk-in Welcoming Center location where all foreign-born residents can receive the support they need.

Guest Post: National Skills Coalition staff join 300 advocates to talk immigrant skill building in Philadelphia

Why WE Global is coming to Philadelphia

By Steve Tobocman, Global Detroit

Steve Tobocman, Global DetroitSeven years ago I paid for two trips to Philadelphia to meet Anne O’Callahan and the staff at the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians, then-Councilman Jim Kenney, the director of Mayor Michael Nutter’s Office of Immigrant and Multicultural Affairs, and other visionary leaders who were leading nascent efforts in Philadelphia to better integrate immigrants. In 2009, Philadelphia was well ahead of other Rust Belt cities in recognizing the valuable contributions that immigrants make to revitalizing neighborhoods and fostering regional economic growth.

How far Philadelphia and the rest of the Rust Belt have come. In less than five years after those visits, Detroit has joined with nearly two-dozen other Rust Belt cities to launch immigrant economic development programs inspired by and modeled after those pioneering Philadelphia efforts. These immigrant economic development initiatives collaborate through the Welcoming Economies Global (WE Global) Network.

On October 19-20 some 350 folks from across the WE Global Network, will join a broad range of local Philadelphians, at the fourth annual WE Global Network Convening. The Convening is an annual regional gathering of cities and community leaders committed to welcoming, retaining, and empowering immigrants as valued contributors to our economies. The WE Global Convening is an opportunity to exchange and learn about the growing energy and momentum of local initiatives in the 10-state WE Global region (IL, IN, IA, MI, MN, MO, NY, OH, PA, WI), drawing on the lessons of the Rust Belt.

When WE Global chose Philadelphia as the site of our convening and the Welcoming Center as our host organization over a year ago, we had no idea how timely our selection of place and host would be. The Convening will be held less than three weeks before the Presidential Election, which has become, for many, a referendum about the nation’s opinion on immigrants and refugees. Our Convening will be in stark contrast to the shrill dialogue that has come to dominate federal immigration debates.

The WE Global Convening will focus on immigrant economic development and welcoming efforts championed by local chambers of commerce, economic development agencies, mayors and county executives, and even a Republican Governor. The panels and discussions are designed to strengthen the work, maximize the impact, and sustain the efforts of individual local initiatives that welcome, retain, and empower immigrant communities as valued contributors to local economies.

When we selected Philadelphia and the Welcoming Center as our host city and partner for the 2016 WE Global Convening, our decision was based on the tremendous work that had been accomplished there, including:

  • Philadelphia’s population rebound. Between 2000 and 2013 Philly’s population grew by 35,615 residents. Its immigrant population grew by 59,824 (or 168% of the total population growth) over that time period.
  • National leading work on workforce and entrepreneurship programs by the Welcoming Center, as well as national leading work on micro-credit by Finanta, and the work of several other innovative programs and partners that have helped immigrants integrate into Philly.
  • Tremendous City support. Philly has benefitted from the leadership of former Mayor Michael Nutter, who created the first Philadelphia Mayor’s Office of Immigrant and Multicultural Affairs. Current Mayor Jim Kenney was an early advocate, developing a city revitalization plan focused on immigrants during his time on the City Council and serving on the founding board of the Welcoming Center. He has worked hard to build upon Philly’s track record as a welcoming place since becoming mayor, deepening investments in city staff, language access plans, and integrating pro-immigration policies in every aspect of city government.

The WE Global Convening (http://www.weglobalnetwork.org/2016-philadelphia/) will be our biggest and best with an expected crowd of 350 attendees, more sessions on a deeper array of topics, and the addition of local neighborhood tours. We want to make sure that local Philadelphians understand the importance of this convening and the innovative approaches that are being implemented across the region. We hope that Philadelphians will be eager to connect with city, county, and state governmental leaders, chambers of commerce, economic development agencies, and others from both sides of the political aisle who look at immigration as a powerful opportunity to revitalize cities and turn sluggish Rust Belt economies into high growth, job rich economies.

I hope to see you in October!


About Steve Tobocman

Since 2009, Steve Tobocman has spearheaded Global Detroit, a regional economic revitalization strategy for the Detroit area focused on immigration. In addition to leading Global Detroit, Steve has played a leadership role in creating, growing, and launching the Welcoming Economies (WE) Global Network at Welcoming America. This first-of-its-kind, ten-state regional network of local immigrant economic development initiatives is helping to make the Rust Belt a leader in immigrant innovation.

50 State Data Report Affirms Immigration’s Impact on Economy

NAE PAOn August 3, Peter Gonzales, the President and CEO of the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians led one of 62 events in all 50 states to talk about immigration’s impact on local economies. Peter joined the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, Pennsylvania Department of State Secretary Pedro A. Cortés, and other community leaders in Philadelphia to unveil the new 50 state economic data report from our friends at the New American Economy (NAE).

“Regions that lead in the 21st Century must intentionally attract diverse people,” Peter noted, “Becoming a more welcoming place for immigrants provides our region with a competitive leg up on the competition.” Rob Wonderling, President & CEO of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce added that “supporting immigrant population growth and accelerating immigrant integration will continue to attract and retain successful business owners and workers from around the globe to Greater Philadelphia, further strengthening our region’s diverse and vibrant economy.”

The Contributions of New Americans in Pennsylvania, as the NAE data report for Pennsylvania is named, shows that immigrants make up 6.4 percent of Pennsylvania’s population and contributed more than $7.1 billion in taxes in 2014. That same year, their total income was $25.8 billion, or 7.2 percent of all earnings in the state.

Similar data was released for all 50 states and WE Global members in Michigan, Missouri, and Ohio either hosted press conferences or took to the airwaves to discuss the new data. Global Cleveland hosted a press conference and the Michigan Office for New Americans and St. Louis Mosaic were both interviewed on local public radio. WE Global members helped NAE to spread the state reports, highlighting the tax contributions, strong labor force participation, high entrepreneurship rates, and tremendous educational attainment levels of immigrants across the Rust Belt. Moreover, immigrants have served as the foundation for population growth (or as a strong countervailing force against population decline) for most Rust Belt cities, metros, and states.

The New American Economy is a national research and advocacy group originally launched by former New York Mayor and businessman Michael Bloomberg and brings together more than 500 Republican, Democratic, and Independent mayors and business leaders who support sensible immigration reforms that will help create jobs for Americans today. Nationally, the reports indicate that immigrant households earned $1.25 trillion in 2014 and paid $223.5 billion in federal taxes, $104.6 billion in state and local levies, and $123.7 billion in Social Security and $32.9 billion in Medicare payments.

August 3’s data release by NAE represents one of the most comprehensive and easy to access sources of information on a state-by-state basis. It reiterates and updates a number of compelling statistics that strongly suggest that immigrants create jobs and that they greatly enhance the economic well-being of U.S.-born residents in their local economies and neighborhoods.

WE Global members have been pioneers at integrating these facts and designing innovative local and regional polices to welcome immigrants and refugees, integrate them into local economic development strategies and programs, and build more vibrant communities. If you want to learn more about the nearly two dozen Rust Belt communities that are setting the standard for the nation’s most innovative local immigrant economic development policies, please join Peter Gonzales and the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians as they host the 2016 WE Convening on October 19-21. The Convening is an opportunity to discuss the latest trends, practices, and innovations to help Rust Belt cities and other communities develop and hone strategies to build growth economies and revitalize neighborhoods through immigrant integration.