Column: Immigrants revitalize Detroit
Immigration has been quietly powering the population growth, neighborhood revitalization, innovation, entrepreneurship, and broad diversity upon which a bright future for Detroit’s neighborhoods and current residents can be secured. New data released this week by the New American Economy, a collection of more than 500 Republican, Democratic, and independent mayors and business leaders who support immigration reforms, in partnership with the Detroit Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs and Global Detroit, confirm the powerful contributions that immigrant Detroiters have been making to the critical issues facing Detroit’s future.
The data report, “New Americans in Detroit,” provides a snapshot of the demographic and economic contributions of immigrants in the city. It highlights the fact that Detroit’s immigrant population grew by more than 4,000 residents or 12.1 percent between 2010-2014, while the U.S.-born population, unfortunately, continued to decline by more than 30,000 residents or 4.2 percent. Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan has noted that the single most important metric upon which to judge the city’s health is population growth and these numbers paint a clear picture — consistent with the experience of every major American Rust Belt city — that stabilizing Detroit’s population requires robust immigration. In fact, no major American city has rebounded from decades of population loss without significant immigration growth.
Last week in his address before the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Mackinac Policy Conference, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan laid out his vision for “one city for all of us” that embraces the revitalization of neighborhoods by including everyone who has been here over the decades in Detroit's new-found prosperity. The New Americans in Detroit data provide insight about how immigrant entrepreneurs in the city are bringing this vision to life by investing, not in downtown or Midtown (although they do that too), but in the neighborhood commercial strips along West Vernor and Michigan Avenue in Southwest Detroit, along Conant in Banglatown, and along West Warren in the Cody-Rouge neighborhood, creating jobs and much-needed activity across the city. In fact, while immigrants comprise only 5.6 percent of the city’s population, they make up 14.8 percent of the city’s self-employed, generating millions of dollars of business income, thousands of jobs, and millions in tax revenues.
Mayor Duggan has been a national leader in building a city welcoming to everyone, including immigrants. In addition to working with the City Council’s Immigration Task Force to declare Detroit to be a welcoming city, Mayor Duggan has created an Office of Immigrant Affairs, developed a municipal ID card, designed and implemented plans that have helped over 250 new refugees to settle in the city (the first significant resettling of refugees within city limits in over a decade). Mayor Duggan is also committed to working with nonprofit partners, like Global Detroit, to build more inclusive neighborhoods in which immigrants and African-American neighbors are collaborating together to create economic opportunities, rehab vacant houses, catalyze the development of new entrepreneurs, and bridge cross-cultural divides between residents of diverse races, ethnicities, religions, and national origins.
Global Detroit, an initiative launched with seed funding from the New Economy Initiative, Detroit Regional Chamber, and Skillman Foundation in 2010, outlined a broad vision and series of specific initiatives — including the creation of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs — specifically designed to foster this change. The New Americans in Detroit data suggests that these early pioneering investments — launched prior to similar efforts now being pursued in Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dayton, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Syracuse, Toledo, and other Rust Belt cities — are paying profound dividends.
If Mayor Duggan and the city of Detroit want to be a city “for all of us” with thriving neighborhoods, rehabbed housing, blossoming neighborhood business districts, job creation, and a stabilizing population and tax base, then they need to look no further than to invest in and build upon the progress being made in welcoming and retaining immigrants and building inclusive neighborhoods that foster deep connections and asset building opportunities for immigrants and their neighbors.
Steve Tobocman is director of Global Detroit.