By Steve Tobocman, Global Detroit
Seven 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.