By Steve Tobocman, Director, Global Detroit
The 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 connections 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.
This 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.