Immigration reform will strengthen Michigan’s economy

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    We talk to business leaders every day and they regularly tell us they struggle to find workers to sustain and grow their companies. This deficit is a major pain point for industries across the state, and mild population growth over the past decade hasn’t helped. If we don’t address these workforce challenges soon, Michigan’s economy will suffer.

    We believe that sensible immigration policies are key to solving this problem. This is why business leaders who represent more than 20,000 companies and more than 1 million employees across the state signed the Michigan Compact on Immigration: principles that we believe will make Michigan the most welcoming and business-friendly state in the nation.

    In recent years, federal policies have restricted access to crucial immigrant and refugee talent and made it increasingly difficult for immigrants to thrive. The Compact is our response as a way to return Michigan to its proud immigrant history of welcoming newcomers that helped us grow. Policies that attract and retain international talent, provide a sensible pathway for immigrants seeking legal status and give our communities the tools to build a competitive workforce are needed.

    There are many reasons immigrants are beneficial to our state:

    Michigan has a worker shortage: Across Michigan, companies struggle to find enough labor to keep up with orders. Meanwhile, despite strong demand for housing, residential growth has slowed dramatically due to a shrinking population. New data shows that 79% of Michigan contractors are worried about worker shortages. Immigrants and refugees have played a crucial role in filling these gaps. For example, the refugee employment program at Bethany Christian Services has partnered with more than 500 businesses in West Michigan to hire more than 5,000 people. Companies have told us that these workers were the reason behind business expansion and profit increases.

    Michigan has an aging population: Baby boomers are rapidly aging out of the workforce and immigrants are the only sizable population filling in the gaps. Seventy-seven percent of immigrants are working age in Michigan, compared to 63% of the U.S.-born population, according to New American Economy.

    This population of immigrants is eager to work — and help others do the same: One refugee employee at Bethany from Syria worked hard to improve his English, take courses in computer science and interview for jobs. Now, he trains other refugees for the job market and consults with companies on diversity and cross-cultural communication. He’s one of thousands of Michigan immigrants and refugees whose pursuit of the American Dream lifts all of us up.

    Immigrants are additive to our communities: In Michigan, immigrants paid $2.1 billion in state and local taxes in 2018 and held $18.4 billion in spending power, according to New American Economy. Additionally, immigrants are launching new businesses. More than 33,000 immigrant entrepreneurs generated more than $27 billion in total sales and employed over 167,000 Michiganders.

    We regularly see immigrants launch new restaurants, construction businesses, service companies and more. These are just some of the ways that immigrants invest in our communities. Nearly 190,000 immigrants in Michigan are homeowners and they spend $1 billion in the state’s rental housing market, generating billions of dollars of wealth for Michiganders and communities across the state. Given that immigrants only comprise 7% of the state’s population, the value they add is immeasurable.

    As business leaders who support the Michigan Compact on Immigration, we are calling on our political leaders to work together to pass comprehensive, common-sense immigration reform. Let’s take productive steps where we are able, set aside our partisan bickering and recognize that immigrant contributions benefit everyone. Michigan’s economic vitality depends on it.

    Andy Johnston is the vice president of government and corporate affairs at the Grand Rapids Chamber and Brad Williams is the vice president of government relations at the Detroit Regional Chamber.

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