WE Global’s Fifth Convening Highlights Rust Belt Optimism

The fifth Convening of the Welcoming Economies Global Network (WE Global) was held in Syracuse Oct. 23-25 during a trying and contentious year in U.S. immigration policy. But welcoming economies aren’t a partisan issue: cities across the Midwest and beyond are innovating to welcome immigrants and refugees and seeing the benefits of being inclusive to all residents. Amidst challenging headlines and policies coming from the Trump Administration and after a 2016 election that centered on victories in Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, local leaders from the region gathered together in Syracuse to seek inspiration and learn how to advance welcoming economies during a particularly challenging time.  

The Welcoming Economies Convening was characterized by inspiration, re-energizing, and opportunity. We heard keynote speeches from Ali Noorani of the National Immigration Forum on how to reach out—stressing the importance of listening—to the people of America’s heartland and Rust Belt who share our passion for a prosperous and safe America, but who have legitimate fears about the nation’s future. We heard how Lost Boy John Dau survived the journey as a Sudanese child refugee and how he became a leader through his experience.

And then we heard from each other. 300+ participants who each and every day are innovating programs and initiatives to build more welcoming and prosperous economies across the Rust Belt. We heard about new university programs to enable international student entrepreneurs to launch their businesses in St. Louis, Cleveland, and Chicago. We heard about efforts to revitalize a distressed Cleveland neighborhood by welcoming immigrants and refugees. And we heard about how municipal government in Nashville and New York City have launched programs to integrate immigrants and refugees to municipal service programs. Convening attendees were equipped with tools and steps to replicate these innovative ideas in their communities.

Despite the national headlines, local Rust Belt communities are coming together to welcome, not scapegoat, immigrants. Local leaders, including chambers, mayors, economic development agencies, and nonprofits, who feel the impact of integration, are increasingly recognizing their own self-interests in growing their immigrant population and speeding their inclusion into the economy.

The conference also hosted the release of new research from the New American Economy on “New Americans and a New Direction: The Role of Immigrants in Reviving the Great Lakes Region”. This report seeks to provide detailed research into the positive impacts that immigrants have had on job creation and wages for working-class Americans in the Great Lakes region. It firmly speaks to the legitimate concerns that working-class have with declining and stagnant wages and reveals that, far from contributing to those conditions, immigrants are paving the way for the Great Lakes region economic future—an optimistic and prosperous one.

What’s next?

As our momentum continues to grow, we look forward to the year ahead with renewed conviction and a commitment to support local efforts across the Rust Belt in many ways:

  • Develop and share resources – WE Global is committed to strengthening the tools and technical assistant for reinforcing local initiatives and sprouting new ones in communities eager to build welcoming economies. From technical assistance to city-to-city visits, advocacy to new partnerships, WE Global is pivoting and innovating to make sure you have what you need.
  • Publish new Research – to date three members have produced reports (Cleveland, Columbus, and Detroit) highlighting the economic impacts of refugees and resettlement to their regions. These members are eager to support other regions interested in the same. We released four new Ideas that Innovate chapters this year, and our research on the potential of immigrants to help local housing markets in the Rust Belt is being utilized in cities across the Rust Belt. With strong partners like the New American Economy, new data to tell the story and help make the case is always on the horizon.
  • Build strong Advocacy – together Network members will continue to advocate at the local and national level for the advancement of programs and policies that include immigrants and refugees in economic and community development. Building on previous communications campaigns, the Network will continue to develop communications tools to strengthen the message and expand its reach. Now more than ever we need to speaking about the economic contributions of immigrants and refugees.
  • Get out of our comfort zone – during Ali Noorani’s keynote address he reminded us to recognize a changing nation and engage those that are missing from the conversation. With patience and optimism, we are working to provide space where everyone feels their opinion is respected and their voice is heard.
  • Grow our membership – Since first coming together in 2013, the Network has grown to more than 30 members, and we’re only getting stronger.  With a broader network there are more opportunities for collaboration and peer-to-peer learning that will continue to  propel this movement forward.

A deep gratitude to our partners in Syracuse for hosting another amazing and important Welcoming Economies Convening. There are plenty of materials available on the conference website and we hope you will engage with us throughout the year. If you aren’t yet a WE Global member, we urge you to learn more about the benefits of joining.