Gateways for Growth grant to increase welcome for immigrants, refugees

Published on January 10, 2019

Gateways for Growth logo

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – The City of Grand Rapids, in partnership with Samaritas, the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce and the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, is one of 13 communities across America receiving a Gateways for Growth (G4G) award to increase welcome to immigrants and refugees.

As a result, Grand Rapids will receive technical assistance and a matching grant of $12,500 from New American Economy and Welcoming America to develop a strategic plan to integrate immigrants, foster economic growth and promote inclusion for all residents. Grand Rapids was chosen because of the city’s demonstrated commitment to developing and implementing concrete strategies that ensure all residents have access to the tools and support they need to succeed and build healthy, welcoming communities. Plus, the city was highlighted as a place where immigrants are already making local economic and communal contributions.

As of 2017, approximately 19,000 immigrants lived in Grand Rapids, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. That’s approximately 10.5 percent of the total population. In Kent County, 8 percent of the total county population consists of New Americans, or 50,176 people (2016 data).

The economic impact of immigrants and refugees in Kent County is vast and the community welcoming, creating an environment ripe for growth. The top five countries of origin for immigrants living in Kent County are Mexico, Guatemala, Vietnam, Bosnia and Canada. 

The Gateways for Growth grant awards Grand Rapids technical assistance and a matching grant of $12,500 to create the Welcoming Plan Task Force and build a strategic plan to become more welcoming. The task force kicks off January 30. 

Matching funds have already been committed from Fifth Third Bank ($25,000), Grand Rapids Community Foundation ($10,000) and more from other sources. 

The task force includes the four collaborating organizations plus the City of Grand Rapids’ Office of Diversity and Inclusion, The Right Place, the City of Wyoming and the Wyoming Public Safety Department, Justice for Our Neighbors, Michigan Immigrant Rights Coalition, Kent County Health Department, Kent ISD, Literacy Center of West Michigan, Kaufman Institute at Grand Valley State University, Treetops Collective, Refugee Education Center, Bethany Christian Services, African Collaborative Network, African Resource Center, West Michigan Asian American Business Association, WGVU, Michigan Office of New Americans, Grand Rapids Community College, Welcoming Michigan, Fifth Third Bank and Grand Rapids Community Foundation.

“We are grateful to New American Economy, Welcoming America and our community partners for working with us to increase access to success for immigrants and refugees,” Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss said. “Their success means our entire community thrives.”

“We want to bring people together to make our city and our county a more welcoming place for New Americans,” said Joel Lautenbach, Samaritas’ executive director of development and G4G coordinator. “Together, we are going to discover the most important strategies that we can work on with the immigrant and refugee communities that keep families putting down roots and see individuals participating at all levels of our society .” 

“Our research has revealed that immigrants are making significant and impactful contributions to the West Michigan economy,” said Rick Baker, president and CEO of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce. “It is imperative that we have a community where everyone can thrive both personally and professionally.”

"The West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is thrilled to be a part of this great work to expand West Michigan’s welcoming approach for all immigrants,” said Guillermo Cisneros, executive director of the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. “Our mission is to increase awareness about immigrant contributions to our economy and our communities. We are grateful Samaritas is continuing this journey with G4G and we look forward to the unity we are collaboratively creating between immigrants and local residents.”
Samaritas is Michigan’s largest refugee resettlement agency, with a resettlement office in Grand Rapids. Refugees come to West Michigan from around the world and are not only hard-working and involved in community, they often become entrepreneurs and business owners who employ local residents and stimulate the economy.

“The facts prove it — cities that embrace immigration as a growth strategy reap the benefits,” said John Feinblatt, president of New American Economy. “The Gateways for Growth Challenge spurs more local leaders to step up and make immigration a centerpiece of their economic agenda.”

“Welcoming America is delighted to be working with a growing number of local leaders like these that are fueling a movement of inclusion, recognizing that communities are more cohesive and more prosperous when everyone who lives there feels like they belong. G4G is an important opportunity for local governments, business and civil society to come together to develop the plans, programs and policies to promote a welcoming home for all,” said Rachel Peric, executive director of Welcoming America. 

Launched in December 2015, the Gateways for Growth Challenge is a competitive opportunity for communities to receive assistance and support from New American Economy and Welcoming America to develop multi-sector plans for integrating immigrants. New American Economy also provides tailored research on the contributions of immigrants and matching grants to select communities as part of the Challenge. 

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