March 23, 2011 at 3:12 pm

Census shows Michigan needs immigrants, Snyder says

Lansing— Gov. Rick Snyder today restated his call for increased immigration in the state in the wake of U.S. Census figures released Tuesday showing a steep decline in Michigan's population.

The governor told Muslim leaders gathered in Lansing for an annual "Michigan Muslim Capitol Day" that Michigan's diversity is a selling point for businesses that can spur economic growth in the state.

"If you look what's going on with our census, we are a state with many challenges," Snyder told participants in the yearly event to call on legislators. "We are the only state that lost population of all 50.

"We need to celebrate diversity; it's one of our strengths. One of the things I'm proud to say I'm already encouraging, that was in my state of the state message, is the idea of more immigration, particularly for advanced degree people."

In comments after his address, Snyder said he supports Detroit Mayor Dave Bing's call for a recount in the city of Detroit, which lost a quarter of its population over the past decade. The census pegged the city's population at 713,777, the lowest in a century.

"I support his effort to do a recount," Snyder said. "If the mayor in good faith believes that there were people that weren't counted, then they should include those people, because it's important for our numbers.

"The big message, though, for both Detroit and our state, is we really do need to focus on moving forward, understanding that we have a broken government system in many respects, without budget and tax system and challenges in Detroit.

"The good part is I believe we've got great leadership now to say lets move forward," Snyder added. "Let's leave that past behind and go to an exciting future about this focus on job creation and keeping our young people (in the state)."

Today's event is sponsored by nonpartisan community organizations including Muslims for a Better Michigan, the Council of Islamic Organizations of Michigan and the Council of American Islamic Relations of Michigan, among others.

Snyder began his address in Arabic, saying "Asalamalakum" or "Peace be upon you," the traditional Muslim greeting, and he thanked members of the Muslim community for their contributions to Michigan society and its economy.

"You've been a great role model for that, so I say thank you," Snyder said.

Participants planned to visit lawmakers and brought small trays of made-in-Michigan baklava to take along as gifts.

Ahmar Iqbal, co-chair of the coalition and CEO of Ypsilanti-based clean energy company Maize & Green, noted that while Michigan's population has declined, the Muslim community appears to be growing.

"We're here to talk about what we can do to help move Michigan move forward," Iqbal said of the group's visit to Lansing. "We just want to introduce who we are as Michigan Muslims.

"We're a diverse community, we represent a lot of different backgrounds, we represent different policy angles, we're passionate about different issues, but all together who we are is we love the state of Michigan … and we choose this as our home."

kbouffard@detnews.com

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