The history of Iowa is a history of diversity. From the numerous Native American tribes that lived on this land long before European exploration to the successive waves of immigrants that crossed over the Mississippi – French, German, Scandinavian, Dutch, English, Czech, Slovak, Lebanese and many more – Iowa’s success has always been built on the diversity of its people. For many reasons, I think this is a past worth celebrating and one worth sustaining into the future.
In August, a coalition of labor groups and immigration advocates released a report outlining the economic benefits Iowa would reap if the U.S. Congress passes the current immigration reform bill.
According to the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning policy group based in Washington, D.C., providing a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States will boost our economy by a cumulative $832 billion over the next 10 years. In addition, immigrants will contribute $2.8 billion total cumulative additional earnings in Iowa over the next decade. They will pay an additional $283 million in state and local taxes over this time period.
But immigrants don’t just add to our economic well-being. They also provide tangible contributions to businesses, schools and communities. A richness of perspective means vibrant art, culture, entertainment and food for communities. Perhaps even more importantly, immigrants bring an openness to new ideas and solutions that we desperately need as we face the collective challenges of the 21st century.
Finally, Jay Byers, chief executive officer of the economic development agency Greater Des Moines Partnership, said attracting top global talent is the key to positioning the state for a strong future. And, as employers will tell you, this is only possible with a diverse, welcoming community.
“We are a nation, we’re a state, we’re a region of immigrants, but (had it not been) for immigration over the last decade, the state of Iowa would have lost population,” Byers told me during an interview for an article on the desire of some Corridor employees to increase the annual cap on H-1B visas.
There’s obviously room for improvement. The results of a survey conducted by Diversity Focus show that residents believe substantial discrimination persists in the Corridor, especially in employment, retail stores, restaurants, government — including law enforcement — and public schools. More than half of the African-American respondents to the 2013 Diversity Climate Assessment reported feeling discriminated against in all six of those areas.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the 2012 population estimate for the state of Iowa is 3.07 million. Of those 3 million, a whopping 92.8 percent of the population identify as white. Three percent of the population is black or African American; a little more than 1.5 percent identify as multiracial and about 5 percent are Hispanic or Latino.
As an Indian American, diversity is a part of my life every day. My parents came to this country from India where my dad became a successful doctor while raising three daughters who are now all working here. I’ve seen how diverse perspectives within an organization can better help it understand what’s important to members of a certain community. And I’ve seen how diversity in thought can bring fresh ideas to the table, finding new answers to shared problems. I care about diversity.
We Create Here is fundamentally about collaborating with community members and nurturing a culture of opportunity and, as such, I believe diversity must take center stage. I want to connect with area employers, human resource professionals, professors, immigrant advocates and “everyday experts” who care about immigration and the role it plays in Iowa’s future. Together we can build a network of those concerned about immigration and use the talents of that network to ensure a productive diversity for Iowa’s future.
How can we start?
One of the events during Creative Week is the second annual Diversity Forum. Diversity Forum is a discussion about how organizations can leverage employee resource groups to strengthen their workforce and assist in the creation of a regional-diversity community plan in the areas of economic development, education, employment, arts and culture and health and well-being. We’d love for you to join us there.
If not, I still sincerely invite you to get in touch, to help build the network of those who care about immigration and diversity, and to identify how to improve the responses.
If you are a proponent of diversity in the workplace and in the community, or you’ve worked with immigrants and can speak to what they contribute, I would like to talk with you. Together, we can tell their stories and create better understanding of why diversity of all kinds matters to Iowa’s future.
I look forward to hearing from you.