The St. Louis region needs more immigrants to help bolster the economy.
That was the message delivered by public officials and representatives from economic development agencies during the launch of St. Louis Mosaic Project on the same day comprehensive immigration reform cleared the U.S. Senate.
During a kickoff event at the Danforth Plant Science Center, organizers began laying out how they intend to stitch together a welcome mat large enough to turn the St. Louis region into the fastest growing metro area for immigrants by 2020.
Even though the name is new, a consortium of local leaders has been developing ways to attract more immigrants for around 12 months and the project remains a work in progress.
Project Director Betsy Cohen said they want to create a clearinghouse for various services.
“So if you move here and you, for example, need English language at the business level, you can almost never find how to get to it,” Cohen said. “We want to make that easy.”
Cohen also said they’ll be substantially expanding the project’s website, which launched today. Among other things, it will include “buttons” for ten different nationalities so immigrants can find information about local events and resources to help them connect with people who have similar backgrounds.
The basic principle is that making immigrants feel at home in St. Louis will help spread the word among different immigrant groups across the country, and world, that the region is good place to live.
“They might say, ‘I’m coming to St. Louis, are there people who are Mexican, people who are Vietnamese?’” Cohen said. “They will be easily able to find something for their own ethnicity.”
Cohen also said in the coming days they’ll begin meeting with leaders in the Metro-East to help gain support for the initiative.
St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley spoke at the event and stressed that immigrants are more likely to start new businesses, and that in turn, means more jobs for everyone.
He also said a key part of the project will be convincing international students to stick around after graduation and they intend to find ways to be more proactive in connecting foreign students with local internships.
“Invite them into our homes," Dooley said. "Sit down and have coffee with them, let them know they are accepted in our community, they’re a part of our community, they are not separate, they are a part of this community. Get them involved in our neighborhoods, in events and activities in our community. That’s when people begin to feel they are welcome and they want to be a part of us.”
Organizers said they’re likely to announce town hall style meetings to get feedback from groups in the St. Louis region that are serving or representing foreign born residents. The initiative also calls for recruiting 50 volunteers who can serve as community “ambassadors.”
Many of the plans announced by the initiative echo recommendations found in a new report that was made public Thursday morning. The study was co-authored by Saint Louis University Economist Jack Strauss, who issued a previous report last year that in part found immigrants are 44 percent more likely to have at least a college degree, 130 percent more likely to have an advanced degree and 60 percent more likely to be entrepreneurs.
The report was also authored by University of Missouri St. Louis professors Mark Tranel and Jeremy Caddel.
The St. Louis County Economic Council provided $200,000 in seed money to kick-start the project.
Follow Tim Lloyd on Twitter: @TimSLloyd