If St. Louis hopes to thrive economically, it needs to attract more immigrants.
That’s the thrust of a new study being released Tuesday morning by economic development officials from St. Louis and St. Louis County. The report, authored by St. Louis University economist Jack Strauss, lays out the impact of immigration on the region’s economy. That impact is positive — just not big enough, Strauss found.
Strauss found that foreign-born residents of metro St. Louis, on average, earn 25 percent more, are 44 percent more likely to have a college degree and are 60 percent more likely to start a business than their native-born counterparts. They tend to cluster in growing industries like technology, healthcare and biotech, and if the region hopes to remain competitive in those areas, Strauss writes, we need to draw more of them into the local workforce.
“It is shortsighted in a globalized economy to expect we can fill all of our labor needs with a homegrown workforce,” he wrote.
Yet attracting immigrants has proven a challenge.
While the region’s immigrant communities are economically strong, they remain mighty small. Just 4.5 percent of St. Louisans are foreign-born, one of the lowest rates among big U.S. cities. In other large metro areas, that number is closer to 20 percent. If immigration in St. Louis had grown at the same pace as other big cities in the last decade, instead of slower, the region’s total income would be 7 to 11 percent higher, Strauss projects.
The real question, of course, is how do you change that trend?
Strauss’ study will serve as the jumping-off point for a panel discussion on the topic, featuring several local business leaders (full disclosure: Post-Dispatch editor Gilbert Bailon is moderating the panel). It’ll stream live on HECTV.org, starting at 8:30. And we’ll have a full story on the talk, the study and the broader issue in Wednesday’s Post-Dispatch.
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