New report shows economic impact of immigrants in Linn County

Cedar River Cedar Rapids bridge
Cedar Rapids — Zak Neumann/Little Village

Immigrants are making important contributions to Linn County’s growth, creating jobs and boosting the local economy, according to a report published last week by New American Economy (NAE).

Using data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2017 American Community Survey, the report documents the economic impact immigrants have had on the county. In doing so, it indirectly addresses myths surrounding immigrants and the economy, such as that they don’t pay taxes or don’t contribute to their local economies.

Linn County immigrants paid almost $60 million in federal taxes and approximately $26 million to state and local taxes in 2017, the report estimates.

Immigrants accounted for almost half of the county’s population growth, and they fill “crucial workforce gaps,” according to the report. Without immigrants, 440 local manufacturing jobs would have been lost, NAE estimated.

Although immigrants only make up slightly more than 4 percent of the county’s population, they own 7 percent of Linn County businesses. NAE cited these statistics as evidence that immigrants frequently serve as an “economic catalyst” and create jobs in the community.

The NAE report was prepared in partnership with the city of Cedar Rapids and the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance. NAE is New York-based research organization, founded by a bipartisan group of business and political leaders, including former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg and Fox CEO Rupert Murdoch, to advocate for immigration policies designed to improve the economy and create jobs.

Courtesy of New American Economy

Maintaining an inclusive and welcoming environment is a priority for political leaders in Linn County’s largest city, Cedar Rapids.

“Cedar Rapids was built on a tradition of immigrant workers who created unique cultures and neighborhoods that remain today,” Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart said in a news release. “We are eager to use this data to develop programs and initiatives to continue our city’s tradition of welcoming diversity, building on our strong and productive workforce, and enhancing our economy.”

In the early 1900s, Cedar Rapids was a “melting pot” of Czech, Russian, Lebanese and Italian immigrants. This history is carried on through the local restaurants, shops and entertainment in the city, especially in the Czech Village and New Bohemia neighborhoods. Those two areas are recognized by the state as an Iowa Cultural District, and NewBo is one of Cedar Rapids’ seven National Historic Districts.

Patterns of immigration, of course, have changed since the early 1900s, and most immigrants in the 2017 version of Cedar Rapids’ melting pot came from India, Mexico, Vietnam or Canada, according to the report. But city leaders see the new immigrants as being as important to Cedar Rapids as those who came a century ago were.

“Diversity and inclusion are important to our community,” Cedar Rapids Councilmember Ann Poe told Little Village on Oct. 30. “We have to continue to reach out to people. … We have to continue to make sure they feel included and provide them an inclusive environment so they feel like they have a home in Cedar Rapids.”

Cedar Rapids was among 15 cities chosen for NAE’s Gateways for Growth, an initiative dedicated to supporting immigrant inclusion and integration. Through this program, Cedar Rapids will receive research reports from NAE and planning assistance from NAE and Welcoming America, a Georgia-based nonprofit that works throughout the country to help immigrants become active in their new hometowns.

Both Linn and Johnson Counties are on Welcoming America’s map of communities that are welcoming places for all, including immigrants.