2015 Was an Amazing Year – 2016 Promises Even More

By Steve Tobocman

The beginning of 2015 was such a flurry of WE Global activity that I am having difficulty understanding how we accomplished so much. As we launch into 2016, I look forward to what I expect to be a year of promise, impact, and growth. But as we enter a year of exciting opportunities, I thought it important to reflect on just how much WE Global accomplished in 2015.

group shotHere’s a few of the highlights:

  • City-to-City Visits – 2015 began with a burst of intense networking and relationship-building as 12 WE Global cities participated in 6 city-to-city visits during January and February to learn about the emerging work across the region.



  • Julio“A Day in the Life of an Immigrant Entrepreneur” Story Contest – Partnering with our friends in ethnic media at New American Media, WE Global hosted an 11-city immigrant entrepreneur story contest and published a storybook in February with all 11 winners, including awarding a $1,000 prize (drawn at random) for Julio Zegarra-Ballon, a Peruvian immigrant in St. Louis who renovated a vacant space to create Zee Bee Market and offer beautifully hand-crafted Fair Trade products from around the world.
  • Launch of WE Global Network – In April the Welcoming Economies Global Network (WE Global) officially launched as a program of Welcoming America.
  • PrintImmigrant Heritage Month – In June, WE Global members worked with welcome.us to celebrate Immigrant Heritage Month. WE Global partnered with the Partnership for a New American Economy to highlight the historic contributions of immigrant businesses in the WE Global states by analyzing the “New American” Fortune 500 firms—the Fortune 500 firms started by immigrants or their first generation children—in each state.
  • 20150520_105106-2Developing Vacant Property Solutions – In May, WE Global was asked by the Center for Community Progress to convene the first-ever discussion of immigrants and land banks at the National Reclaiming Vacant Property Conference in Detroit. Nine of the nation’s largest land banks joined WE Global and national partners Partnership for a New American Economy and the Legacy Cities project to discuss the opportunities that can result from connecting land banks and vacant properties with immigrants and refugees. This initial conversation served as the impetus for a forthcoming research report exploring these opportunities in greater detail.
  • Plenary 710x375Dayton Convening – Probably the highlight of the year was the third annual WE Global Convening in Dayton in July keynoted by the White House’s Felicia Escobar. Some 300 attendees from 25 Midwest communities attended the gathering which was characterized by the relationships that were built among practitioners. Welcome Dayton did stellar work as our host and the convening coincided with the release of new research by the Partnership for a New American Economy about how Dayton has benefitted from Welcome Dayton and the growth of its immigrant population
  • Guide-to-IED1-231x300Guide to Immigrant Economic Development – In conjunction with the Dayton convening in July, Welcoming America released its Guide to Immigrant Economic Development written by WE Global Co-Chair Steve Tobocman (with tremendous help from Global Detroit staff, as well as Welcoming America’s Susan Downs-Karkos and Rachel Peric). The Guide includes 13 chapters to help local economic development agencies, chambers, mayors, city councils, nonprofit organizations, and advocates develop innovative programming that integrate immigrants and refugees into their local economies to create jobs and growth that impact the entire region.  
  • CEOs for Cities, National Immigrant Integration Conference, and other speaking engagements – Throughout the year, WE Global was invited to present the exciting work going on throughout the Network to a wide variety of audiences, including CEOs for Cities, the National Immigrant Integration Conference, refugee resettlement groups, and even a state health endowment. In 2016 we hope to connect our innovative perspective with more diverse audiences of economic development actors, business leaders, and local officials.

Neighborhood Revitalization: The Immigrant/Refugee Opportunity

Energy was high as 300 individuals from organizations committed to welcoming immigrants and growing their regional economies gathered together at the July 9 WE Global Network Convening. The Convening covered topics ranging from business and economic development to community culture and arts, and the panels generated exciting and thoughtful conversation.

During the Neighborhood Revitalization panel discussion, each speaker brought a unique perspective to the conversation, and all agreed that attracting, retaining, and welcoming immigrants and refugees into neighborhoods has incredible benefits.

Lets take a quick look at Ohio: Ohio’s population growth has slowed significantly since the 1970s. In addition, Ohio cities’ residential vacancy rates are around 10%. In smaller cities and towns in Ohio, this rate is even higher. This stagnation coupled with an aging population and a slew of uninhabited houses makes welcoming newcomers to the area an attractive goal.


From left to right: Alison Goebel (Greater Ohio Policy Center), Councilperson Joe Cimperman (City of Cleveland), Raquel Garcia Andersen (Global Detroit), Aaron Sorrell (City of Dayton)

There are considerable opportunities across the Rust Belt for economic and neighborhood growth through welcoming immigrants in regions enduring similar conditions. For example, the panelists described how, as a result of directly marketing homes to the Turkish population in Ohio, over 300 homes were renovated and there was a $15 million increase to the local economy. Raquel Garcia Andersen of Global Detroit described how becoming a homeowner has a positive ripple effect on the community. She explains, “Once you own a house, you can save that money you usually would be using to pay for rent…you are able to participate more fully in the economy and generate more wealth in the neighborhood by spending that money at local businesses.” In short, regions that are attracting and retaining immigrants are combating decades of population loss, formerly vacant neighborhoods have become culturally diverse and lively, and everyone benefits when immigrants and refugees become homeowners because they help strengthen the local economy.

At this moment, cities and states within the WE Global region face an exciting opportunity to revitalize struggling neighborhoods through immigrant attraction. However, there are barriers that make it difficult for immigrants and refugees to become homeowners that must be addressed. There are language barriers when it comes to navigating the process of buying a home as well as with local property code enforcement. There are also challenges in establishing a standard construction method and with neighborhood integration with other groups already living there.

Fortunately, strategies are being developed that carve pathways through these barriers. Panelist and Cleveland City Councilman Joe Cimperman provided several concrete suggestions to tackle these issues, such as working with local community colleges to develop a basic framing and home construction course for immigrants, and creating “Dream Neighborhood” plans, welcoming revitalization plans to reinvigorate select Ohio cities by appealing to refugees while improving living conditions for existing residents.

As Dayton City Planning official Aaron Sorrell stated, we must make a larger effort to support immigrants’ full integration in our communities. Once we do that, we open up our cities to the opportunities for social and economic growth that immigrants and refugees bring, ultimately creating societies that are better for everyone.

Featured photo credit: Urbanfeel on flickr.

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.

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:


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.

Key White House Immigration Advisor to Keynote Convening

Today, the Welcoming Economies Global Network (WE Global Network) announced that Felicia Escobar, White House Special Assistant to the President for Immigration Policy, will deliver the keynote address at WE Global’s 3rd Annual Convening on July 9 at the Dayton Convention Center. Escobar will discuss the White House Task Force on New Americans and the new federal action plan. Ms. Escobar has been a key staff person for President Obama on immigration policy and the creation and implementation of the first-ever federal immigrant integration policy.

“I can’t think of a more important keynote speaker given the exciting efforts and visionary new policies coming from the White House and federal government on immigrant welcoming and integration,” said David Lubell, Executive Director of Welcoming America. “The White House recognizes that if America is to remain competitive in the global economy, we must support and maximize the efforts of local initiatives that welcome, retain, integrate, and empower immigrant communities. That’s why the WE Global Network is so important.”

The July 9 WE Global Conference in Dayton is the third annual gathering of regional leaders of local immigrant economic development initiatives working in 10 states to promote immigrants as valued contributors to local economies. Members of the network benefit from peer-to-peer learning exchanges, policy and research tools developed for immigrant economic development organizations, access to technical assistance, other capacity building resources, and the opportunity to build relationships and networks with other practitioners.

“To think that in just two short years, our network has grown from an initial gathering organized in less than two months to a national event with participation from the White House is pretty amazing,” said Global Detroit Executive Director Steve Tobocman. “The Dayton Convening promises to blaze new ground in this field.”

The White House Task Force on New Americans report includes recommendations to recognize and expand local initiatives like those in the WE Global Network and Ms. Escobar will share more about ongoing federal efforts to engage with local communities on immigrant integration and economic development.