Immigrants made up a quarter of population growth

Article by Steve Garbacz of KPC Media

FORT WAYNE — Population growth in northeast Indiana has stagnated for years, but a new report shows that immigrants are a key group that is growing in the region.

Immigrants in Fort Wayne and northeast Indiana accounted for 24.7 percent of overall population growth in the region from 2011 to 2016. While the total population grew by 2.2 percent, the immigrant population increased by 13.3 percent, according to a new report by New American Economy (NAE), in partnership with Welcoming Fort Wayne, the Associated Churches of Fort Wayne & Allen County and the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership.

Data comes from 5-year samples of the American Community Survey from 2011 and 2016, and figures refer to the Combined Statistical Area of Fort Wayne-Huntington-Auburn, Indiana, including the counties of Adams, Allen, DeKalb, Huntington, Noble, Steuben, Wells and Whitley.

“As we drive to increase our regional population to 1 million by 2030, we know from the examples we have seen in other cities that immigrants play an enormous role in filling our workforce, schools and tax rolls,” said Michael Galbraith, director of the Road to One Million at the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership. “Looking at the data in this report, the fact that almost 25 percent of our growth between 2011 and 2016 comes from immigrants underlines that conclusion.”

Though they account for 4.5 percent of the region’s overall population, immigrants represent 5.9 percent of the working-age population and 5.2 percent of its employed labor force. In the manufacturing industry, immigrants make up 7.6 percent of the workforce, totaling 1,299 local jobs that would have otherwise vanished or moved elsewhere.

In addition to the impact on regional population growth, data shows immigrants in the region have $472.8 million in spending power. Immigrants paid $161.3 million in taxes in 2016, with $104.4 million in federal taxes and $56.9 million in state and local taxes.

“For hundreds of years, diverse peoples have come to call northeast Indiana home. Fort Wayne’s European roots run deep, and without a rich immigration history, our community wouldn’t be what it is today,” said Melissa Rinehart with Welcoming Fort Wayne. “Newcomers continue to migrate to Northeast Indiana from all corners of the globe seeking a better life, and the data in this report substantiates what many of us believed to be true – that they’re critical to the economic vitality of our community. My hope is that professional research like this continues in order to deepen our understanding of a larger immigrant narrative in northeast Indiana.”

Roger Reece, executive director of Associated Churches of Fort Wayne and Allen County, also echoed the importance of the region’s welcoming role as an immigrant-friendly community.

“Fort Wayne has a rich history where the faith communities and churches cared for and nurtured new foreign-born members into the community. The churches of Fort Wayne not only ministered to their spiritual life, but also preserved their ethnic identity, provided a place of socialization and education for their children, and helped them to adapt to this new American environment. It is a story of a pioneer community that wished to be known as ‘A City of Churches.’ Associated Churches of Fort Wayne and Allen County encourages the voices of our faith to speak again, to befriend, to care for, and nurture the strangers amongst us,” Reece said.

The report also includes these other key findings:

Immigrants play a critical role in several key industries in the region, including STEM fields. Foreign-born workers made up 7.1 percent of all workers in construction and 6.5 percent of workers in hospitality and recreation. They also made up 4.8 percent of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) workers, higher than their share of the population.

More than 1,000 students enrolled in colleges and universities in the region during the fall of 2015 were temporary residents. These students supported 215 local jobs and contributed $36.1 million in spending in the 2016-17 academic year.

Immigrants in northeast Indiana were more likely than their U.S.-born counterparts to have an advanced degree in 2016 — 9.3 percent of immigrants had an advanced degree, compared to 7.5 percent of the U.S.-born residents.

Nearly half of immigrants in the region — 41.5 percent, or nearly 12,000 individuals — were naturalized citizens in 2016.

“Fort Wayne knows firsthand how cities can use immigration to stoke the local economy,” said John Feinblatt, President of New American Economy. “The numbers show that across northeast Indiana, immigrants help grow the tax base, drive demand and create American jobs.”

The study was funded by the Gateways for Growth Challenge. Northeast Indiana was one of 44 communities selected for the Gateways for Growth Challenge, a competitive opportunity from New American Economy and Welcoming America where local communities receive tailored research on the contributions of immigrants, direct technical assistance to develop multi-sector plans for welcoming and integrating immigrants, or matching grants.