March 26, 2015 by Audrey Ingram
Greene County is poised to welcome “international workers,” Himar Hernandez told local business leaders gathered recently at Clover Hall in the Green County Fairgrounds.
Hernandez is the assistant director for community and economic development at Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.
Hernandez joined Jon Wolseth, community development specialist; Alexander Gibilisco, migrant seasonal farm worker adviser; and Amy Mauer, migrant and seasonal farm workers outreach specialist at the event, which was hosted by Iowa Works and the Greene County Development Corp.
“We have a whole lot of jobs coming in,” GCDC Executive Director Ken Paxton said, referring to the recent opening of Hy-Vee and the slated opening of a Wild Rose casino. “We’re looking for ways to fill those.”
Iowa has a unique draw for both Latino immigrants, which account for five percent of the state’s population, and for the increasing proportion of African immigrants who travel to the U.S. from rural locales, Hernandez explained.
“They like Iowa because it’s peaceful,” he explained. “There is a low cost of living. People see Iowa as a good place to go.”
Most new Iowans did not travel from Mexico City, he continued.
They are far more comfortable—and often more suited—to a rural Midwestern destination like Jefferson than a heavily Latino urban destination, such as Dallas, he said.
Immigration is initially expensive for any community—school districts and hospitals particularly will struggle with language barriers, and companies or counties might need to look at offering shuttles or some form of public transportation—but nationwide research has shown that increased diversity has a net positive economic impact on a community, Hernandez said.
Additionally, these new residents are very entrepreneurial, he said—they have already proven they are willing to take risks by moving to a new country.
They are social and they want to be downtown—where many rural Iowa communities struggle to fill vacant storefronts, he continued.
The key is to reach out to these new neighbors and get them involved—it is not enough to hire a translator. Many new residents rely on face-to-face communication and informal networks of family as opposed to formal business organization or service clubs. But not because they are not willing to get involved—they just aren’t familiar with these organization, Hernandez said.
Latino culture also places heavy emphasis on family.
Often the families have several children, who grow up bilingual and often stay in the community, close to their parents. This represents an opportunity to increase the long-term sustainability of a community, Hernandez said, even though these cultural differences often disappear by the third generation.
Tolerance is not diversity, Hernandez stressed. And diversity is not just race—it is difference of experience, not skin color. And it makes a community stronger, he said.
“We’re a nation of immigrants, he said. “We’re always going to have some groups coming in.”
In Des Moines and Waterloo, this immigration is trending from Latino to African, and even within the African immigration, the prevailing home country is shifting from Sudan to Ethiopia, he said.
Courtesy of Audrey Ingram, the Jefferson Herald, 3/26/15.