Listening!

By Denise Cumbee Long, Executive Director, International House056

How can Charlotte be a more welcoming city for immigrants?  A diverse group of about 60 city residents gathered on Sunday to consider this question as part of a series of community “Listening Sessions” sponsored by the city’s Immigrant Integration Task Force.  An inter-agency group created by the City Council in November of 2013, the Task Force is charged with researching and recommending policies that will facilitate immigrant access to services in Charlotte so that they can better integrate into our community. They will also be considering ways to maximize immigrants’ economic and civic contributions to the city.

International House partnered with the City to host the first community listening session here at Midwood International & Cultural Center.  It was a great opportunity for members of the community to offer their observations to Task Force members about what they think Charlotte is doing well and what could be improved. Similar sessions will be held at other locations across the city during the coming weeks and months.

Other cities in the United States have set up similar commissions and have received helpful input and practical suggestions that have enabled them to better capitalize on the immigrant talent in their communities.  I commend Charlotte for doing the same. We all benefit from the contributions of immigrants to the economy and quality of life here in the Queen City.

A recent study by researchers at UNC-Chapel Hill found that North Carolina’s immigrant population has a positive impact on the state’s economy, with immigrants contributing $23,371 on a per-capita basis.  This contradicts the often heard argument that those who migrate to the U.S. from foreign countries are a drain on our economy.  The UNC study was commissioned by the N.C. Bankers Association and added up the immigrants’ consumer spending, plus the taxes they pay, then subtracted the public services they consume to come up with the estimated “net benefit”.

Charlotte is wise to recognize that immigrants boost economic growth as well as offer human talent, new ideas, and cultural enrichment to make our city an even better place to live and work. It makes sense to consider ways that Charlotte might better help these new arrivals learn how to navigate city services and successfully integrate into the community.

All Task Force meetings will be held the fourth Thursday of every month for one year at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center, 600 East 4th Street, Charlotte, NC 28202 and are open to the public.

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