Edwardsville, IL (PRWEB) November 22, 2013
How universities across the region can engage St. Louis companies to make this the fastest-growing metropolitan area for immigration by 2020 was the subject of an immigration symposium held Tuesday, Nov. 12 at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.
“Immigration as an Economic Development Tool,” jointly hosted by University Park SIUE, Inc. and Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois, featured strategies for dramatically increasing the rate at which greater St. Louis grows its immigrant population over the next six years. Engaging both businesses and higher education institutions in developing solutions to keep foreign-born university graduates here and retain that global talent base, says James Pennekamp, special assistant to the chancellor for regional economic development and University Park executive director, is one of the best ways to ensure the region’s global competitiveness.
Pennekamp is a founding member of the steering committee that formed two years ago to launch The St. Louis Mosaic Project. The initiative’s mission, “Regional Prosperity Through Immigration and Innovation,” is to dramatically increase the rate at which greater St. Louis grows its immigrant population – and to move the metropolitan statistical area (MSA) into first place of all major U.S. cities in immigrant growth by 2020.
According to Pennekamp, an existing barrier impeding this mission is the fact that student visa restrictions prevent foreign-born graduates to remain in the U.S. and begin their professional careers.
“Research shows that 80 percent of international students studying in the St. Louis region would like to stay if they could remain in the U.S. to find a job after graduation,” said Pennekamp, “and if their visas didn’t require them to leave at that point. These high-performing graduates provide talent and cultural diversity that make our region better going forward, and they’ll contribute to our overall Mosaic Project goal of making the St. Louis MSA the fastest-growing region for immigrants by 2020.”
Increasing the St. Louis region’s immigrant share to a number-one ranking of all U.S. cities is an ambitious but doable goal, said symposium presenter and project director Betsy Cohen, citing a 2012 study performed by Saint Louis University economics professor Jack Strauss, Ph.D. According to the study, St. Louis has the lowest immigration share of any Top 20 city and the second-slowest overall population growth. Other metro areas in the Top 20 average 40 percent faster economic growth over the past decade, she added.
“St. Louis’ foreign-born community is highly educated with predominantly white-collar jobs,” Cohen said. “They earn an average salary of $83,000, are 44 percent more likely to have at least a college education and 60 percent more likely to be entrepreneurs. But St. Louis currently has fewer than five percent foreign-born living in our region, placing our region with one-quarter the immigrants of other major MSAs. Recent studies show that St. Louis organizations providing services to immigrants are fractionalized and uncoordinated compared to other regions across the country,” she said. “That’s what The Mosaic Project is about. Supporting, linking, engaging and growing these relationships.”
A Nigerian-born, Chicago-grown immigrant entrepreneurial success story, presenter Ola Ayeni shared his experiences at the symposium. Ayeni came to the U.S. at age 26 and in 2009 launched Dining Dialog, a high-tech hospitality marketing company. Ayeni competed against 700 others to win the 2013 Arch Grant Global Startup Competition for his 2012 software platform, eateria.
Southern Illinois University Edwardsville provides students with a high quality, affordable education that prepares them for successful careers and lives of purpose. Built on the foundation of a broad-based liberal education, and enhanced by hands-on research and real-world experiences, the academic preparation SIUE students receive equips them to thrive in the global marketplace and make our communities better places to live. Situated on 2,600 acres of beautiful woodland atop the bluffs overlooking the natural beauty of the Mississippi River’s rich bottom land and only a short drive from downtown St. Louis, the SIUE campus is home to a diverse student body of nearly 14,000.