Rust Belt Immigrants Propel Economy of Region and Country

100 years ago, the Rust Belt was a region of immigrants – a global leader that attracted millions of people from all over the world to contribute to the growth industries of America’s manufacturing base. Immigrants were at the source of much of the Rust Belt’s early 20th Century industrial innovation and propelled much of America’s industrial growth. Their economic contributions helped build the most prosperous middle-class quality of life the world has ever known.

Can you imagine how energized Rust Belt cities would be if their populations reflected anything like the number of newcomers we experienced 100 years ago? See the chart below comparing 1910’s foreign-born populations to 2010’s in our WE Global Network member cities.

The WE Global Network is a collection of 20 Rust Belt economic and community development initiatives focused on revitalizing their cities and regional economy by integrating immigrants. The WE Global Network celebrates Immigrant Heritage Month, a nationwide effort coordinated by Welcome.US to gather and share stories of our shared American heritage, by honoring immigrants’ economic contributions and encouraging a new future in the Rust Belt that welcomes and embraces immigrants, refugees, and internationals.

WE Cities Population then and now smaller

When talking about immigrant business owners, it’s common to think first of your local corner store, family owned-restaurant, and other small businesses we rely on in every day life.  Less often do the well-known logos of the household brands that provided livelihood to our grandparents’ and parents’ generations come to mind, but we now know that many of these companies, too, owe their existence to immigrant innovators.  Entrepreneurial immigrants have created some of the world’s largest companies and millions of jobs for American workers. The Partnership for a New American Economy’s “New American” Fortune 500 report explores the latest research on the business contributions of immigrants. Nationally, more than 40% of 2011’s Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or their children. These companies employ 10 million people worldwide, and have combined annual revenues of $4.2 trillion, an amount greater than the GDP of every country in the world but the U.S., China, and Japan.

To celebrate Immigrant Heritage Month, WE Global Network partnered with the Partnership for a New American Economy to examine the contributions immigrants have made to our 10-state region’s largest companies.

The numbers are astounding. “New Americans” (defined for this purpose as an immigrant or the child of an immigrant) in our WE Global Network 10-state region founded 94 of the Fortune 500 companies (2011 data) – that’s nearly one out of every five of America’s largest companies. Furthermore, a New American founded nearly half (45.6%) of the Fortune 500 companies in our 10-state region.


WE Region New American F500 to totalAnd finally, the 10 WE Global states account for 45% of all the New American Fortune 500 companies.

Across the Rust Belt, economic development initiatives and innovative strategies focused on attracting and empowering immigrant communities have taken root. The WE Global Network was formed to connect these efforts and to honor and embrace the Rust Belt’s legacy as a region of immigrants.

In many ways, the first step to empowerment is recognizing the strength of our heritage. Our immigrant ancestors were a main source of our economic strength in the 20th Century, and new immigrants to the United States have continued this tradition into the 21st.

Immigrant Heritage Month celebrates immigrant contributions from the past and present through stories and events nationwide. We encourage you to read the inspirational immigrant stories on the website and share your story too! You can also promote and participate in events happening near you and share the stories through’ Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube.


WE Global Network members are celebrating Immigrant Heritage Month across the Rust Belt. See what these communities are doing to honor immigrants and refugees this month:

  • Buffalo – Mayor Byron Brown recognized June as Immigrant Heritage Month, and World Refugee Day Kicked Off With A Soccer Game At LaSalle Park.
  • Cleveland – Through Global Cleveland’s Welcoming Initiative, old and new friends participated in a walking tour through the Cleveland Cultural Gardens on June 12th. On June 13th, Global Cleveland participated in La Placita Market in Cleveland’s Clark-Fulton neighborhood on the city’s west side – a traditional Hispanic market aimed at promoting the neighborhood’s Hispanic culture and fostering economic development. Global Cleveland held a private viewing for guests of a documentary featuring stories of recent immigrants to the United States. Global Cleveland wraps up their celebration with their monthly international meet-up dinner at Luchita’s Mexican Restaurant to celebrate Cleveland’s diversity – and amazing Mexican food. Check out Global Cleveland’s IHM stories!
  • Columbus – The City of Columbus recognized Immigrant Heritage Month with City Council.
  • Philadelphia – The Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians launched a 3-week campaign to share the Welcoming Center’s stories and raise funds to support new arrivals to establish themselves in America.
  • Pittsburgh – All month long, Vibrant Pittsburgh has been sharing stories of immigrants in the Pittsburgh community, and created a series of videos highlighting the diversity in the region.  Vibrant Pittsburgh also funded Pittsburgh’s World Refugee Day, and captured some of the fun! On June 1st, the City of Pittsburgh kicked off Immigrant Heritage Month with a special visit from USCIS Director León Rodríguez and an historic naturalization ceremony in City Council chambers, followed by the announcement of Mayor William Peduto’s Welcoming Pittsburgh Plan. Pittsburgh also launched their Spark! Film Series early this month, expanding their Cinema in the Parks free summer screenings to include six cultural films–previously only one cultural film was shown–in the hopes to spark an engaging community dialogue. Pittsburgh continues the celebration of Immigrant Heritage Month by inviting the public to City Hall to experience the journey of an undocumented immigrant in the Shared Border, Shared Dreams exhibit. Pittsburgh is excited to round out the month with the City’s first-ever Citizenship Day, to support Pittsburgh’s citizenship-eligible residents on their path to naturalization.
  • St. Louis – Anna Crosslin of the International Institute St. Louis was honored Thursday by The White House as a “Champion of Change” – people who are making a difference in the lives of ‪‎refugees in the U.S. and abroad. Anna has served as President and CEO of the International Institute of St. Louis for 37 years, and was instrumental in the founding of the St. Louis Mosaic Project, a nationally-recognized multi-sector led immigration attraction initiative and WE core member.