The dozen reporters from Germany, Russia, Hong Kong and elsewhere may have been pleasantly surprised by Buffalo’s welcoming atmosphere for refugees and immigrants.
Anyone familiar with the history of the city knows it was built on the hard work of a long line of immigrants, including Irish, Germans, Italians and Poles. The list of countries of origin has grown over the many decades, more recently to include a few thousand Bhutanese refugees, along with large groups from Burma, Iraq, Somalia and Sudan, to name a few.
Buffalo is proud to be a place where people from all over the world come to settle and start building family and community.
Some of the refugees and immigrants came straight to Buffalo, sent by resettlement agencies. Many immigrants are highly coveted as employees in the manufacturing and agricultural sector because of their work ethic.
As Mayor Byron W. Brown explained to the curious group of reporters, here recently on a trip sponsored by the U.S. State Department, “I am not fearful of being a welcoming city.”
Brown wisely sees the benefit of the huge increase in immigrants during his 10 years as mayor, in particular pointing to the positive effects of entrepreneurial immigrants. Other Rust Belt cities, including St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Cincinnati and Detroit, have also picked up on the positive effects of this new population and are developing strategies oriented around the economic impact of immigration.
One of the six planks in St. Louis’ regional economic development strategy is to attract and retain more immigrants than anywhere else in the Midwest. Eva Hassett, executive director of the International Institute of Buffalo, said officials there “get the correlation between immigrants and economic growth.”
The foreign-born population in Buffalo is now almost 24,000, nearly doubling since 2006. This population now represents about 8 percent of the city’s population, according to estimates by the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. In the top 50 cities in the country, the ones that are rebounding after losing population between 1960 and 1980 are doing so with a growth in the immigrant population.
The mayor said he expected to see a population increase in the 2020 census, which would make it the first since 1950 and add hard evidence of the revitalization of a city not long ago moribund.
Brown, the grandson of Caribbean immigrants, is sincere in his appreciation of refugees and immigrants and what they have to offer. He has expanded outreach with the opening of the Office of New Americans.
The long tradition of America opening its doors to foreigners has paid huge benefits. Buffalo was built by waves of immigrants, and now a new wave is helping rebuild the city. City officials are right to make it as welcoming as possible for refugees and immigrants.