As Immigrants Boost Ohio’s Economy, Support for Reform Grows

Communications Associate

August 4, 2015

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2012 American Community Survey, Cleveland’s population dropped 18.6 percent between 2000 and 2012, and Dayton’s dropped 14.8 percent. These losses would have been even greater if not for gains in a population subset: immigrants.

In Ohio’s Rust Belt cities, as in many cities and towns around the country, immigrants are infusing new life and economic growth. In Ohio, faith, law enforcement, business and political leaders are responding by supporting more welcoming policies on the state level and nationally.


“For me, immigration reform is not a political or partisan issue. It’s a moral issue and it’s a family issue. Our congregation has people from 120 different countries. We’ve seen married couples separated, mothers taken away from their children and fathers deported because of the broken immigration system. We need reform and we need it now.”

— The Rev. Rich Nathan, Senior Pastor, Vineyard Columbus

Welcome Dayton, Global Cleveland Set the Tone

In 2011, Dayton was ahead of the curve when it launched an effort to accelerate population growth through immigration. The city’s population decline between 2000 and 2012 is only part of the story; it had shrunk 40 percent since 1960.

“Welcome Dayton” was a response to city residents who said they wanted leaders to think about new ways to revitalize the city. The initiative seeks to promote immigrant integration via “business and economic development, providing access to education, government, health and social services; ensuring equity in the justice system; and promoting an appreciation of arts and culture,” according to its website.

The result? The Dayton area experienced a 40 percent growth in immigration just between 2011 and 2012, according to a U.S. Chamber of Commerce report that highlights half a dozen “Enterprising Cities.”

Meanwhile, Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl has been a leading proponent of local law enforcement policies that combat crime by building trust with immigrant communities. In testimony before the House Judiciary Committee on July 23, Biehl countered proposals that would target “sanctuary cities” and include Dayton in a sweeping definition thereof. “I do not consider Dayton a ‘sanctuary city,’ ” Biehl testified. “Yet, some of the current federal legislative proposals would include Dayton in their one-size-fits-all solution. I am concerned that a poorly conceived response of compelling states and localities to carry out certain immigration policies will undermine trust between law enforcement and immigrant communities.” He made similar arguments in an earlier op-ed in The Hill.

Elsewhere, in Cleveland, civic and business leaders launched Global Cleveland to welcome newcomers following steep population declines. In 2010, the city has lost nearly one-fifth of its population in a decade, but the drop since 1950 was 56.5 percent. Global Cleveland has since partnered with the national group Welcoming America.

“[Immigrants have] demonstrated their over-performance in entrepreneurship, whether that’s a neighborhood bodega or a big tech company,” said Richard Herman, a Cleveland immigration lawyer who is helping to bring Welcoming America to Cleveland. “Economics is driving the whole piece. We’re basically talking about welcoming immigrants to grow the economy.”

Immigrants accounted for 7 percent of total economic output in the Cleveland metropolitan area and 5 percent in the Cincinnati metropolitan area as of 2007 — just a sample of their economic impact statewide.

A Much-needed Economic Boost

Immigrants help paint Ohio’s economic picture as key parts of the state’s entrepreneurship, workforce, and tax base. Immigrants and immigrant-owned businesses generate billions of dollars in economic activity.

Business owners netted $1.3 billion in business income between 2006 and 2010, according to the Partnership for a New American Economy, and made up nearly 5 percent of the state’s workforce in 2013, per the American Immigration Council. In 2013, Ohio Latinos alone paid more than $1 billion in federal taxes and $553.8 million in state and local taxes, with foreign-born Latinos making up about a quarter of those amounts.

Immigrants make up about 4 percent of the population, up from 3 percent in 2000. But in 2009, nearly half of students earning master’s or doctoral degrees in STEM fields from Ohio’s research-intensive universities were foreign-born, and one in eight STEM workers with an advanced degree in Ohio was foreign-born as of 2010. Estimates suggest that expanded visa opportunities for immigrants working in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields would create an estimated 12,000 jobs in the state by 2020 and add about $4.6 billion in personal income by 2045.

Changing Demographics, Changing Conversation

As communities look to welcome new and aspiring Americans for population and economic reasons, political leaders have a vested interest in messages that resonate with new American voters and Ohioans overall.

Polling by the Public Religion Research Institute in February found that 57 percent of Ohioans support the opportunity for Americans lacking authorization to earn citizenship, and another 15 percent support the opportunity for such immigrants to earn legal status. And a 2014 poll by the Partnership for a New American Economy found that 68 percent of Ohio voters would rather vote for a 2016 presidential candidate from a party that supports immigration reform.

In addition, the immigrant voter population is growing. The number of potential new Hispanic and Asian voters in Ohio by 2016 is more than 50,000, and by 2020 that number rises to nearly 200,000. By comparison, President Obama won the state by 166,277 votes in 2012.

Leaders are taking heed. Republican Gov. John Kasich, who recently announced his candidacy for president, has urged a more positive conversation around immigrants and immigration.

“Everybody in this country has to feel as though they have an opportunity,” Kasich has said. “ … So when I look at a group of people who might be hiding, who may be afraid, who may be scared, who have children, I don’t want to be in a position of where I make it worse for them … You have to have dialogue in this country with people who may not think exactly the way you think.”

Ohio Faith, Law Enforcement and Business Media Availability

Richard Biehl, Dayton Police Chief

William Brown, Chancellor, Cedarville University

Rich Nathan, Senior Pastor, Vineyard Columbus

Carl Ruby, Founder & Executive Director, WelcomeSpringfield.Org

Jose Salas, Pastor, Iglesia Hispana Emmanuel

Wendy Tarr, Diocese Office for the Catholic Church in Columbus

Dave Workman, Great Lakes South Regional Leader, Vineyard USA

Please contact Cathleen Farrell to arrange interviews.