CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - (CBS2/Fox28) — Back in February Cedar Rapids signed onto the Iowa Compact on Immigration, promising to support a growing part of the community.
On Wednesday they released the action part of that promise: a strategic plan called "Welcoming Cedar Rapids."
"How can we empower, educate, and encourage immigrants to prosper?" asks Mugisha Bwenge.
It's the mission of his non-profit, United We March Forward, which helps immigrants like Bwenge navigate new lives in the area. The organization helps with everything from learning a new language to new laws and driving.
Bwenge was at February's meeting and is happy to see the next steps begin.
Cedar Rapids received a "Gateways for Growth" grant to research and implement their welcoming strategy. Molly Hilligoss from Welcoming America, a group that's helped 200 communities large and small with initiatives like this, says there's an economic and cultural imperative to the plan.
"The numbers don't lie," Hilligoss said at Wednesday's meeting.
New research from New American Economy shows that immigrants accounted for 47.1% of the total population growth in Cedar Rapids between 2012 and 2017.
"That's a huge number of folks who are now living, working, being part of this community," Hilligoss says.
The report also found immigrants make large financial contributions, including over $53 million to federal taxes and more than $26 million to state and local taxes in 2017.
The study says immigrants also boost the city’s economy with $225.6 million in spending power.
Immigrants also help fill workforce gaps. The report says they make up around 13% of workers in science, technology, and math (STEM) and around 8% of workers in manufacturing and hospitality.
Immigrants aren’t just filling jobs, the study finds. They’re creating them.
The report says in 2017, immigrants represented 7.1% of the county’s business owners and were 45% more likely to be entrepreneurs than U.S.-born citizens.
You can view the full report here.
The main goals of the plan are creating a welcoming committee, which will likely include a website with resources, strengthening workforce and education, and supporting business and entrepreneurship.
Bwenge is excited to have some help in his efforts to support fellow immigrants.
"When an immigrant comes to anyone, the first thing is, 'Can I trust you?'" he says.
The steering committee for the city's plan held focus groups with immigrants to hear firsthand what Cedar Rapids does well, and what needs work, when it comes to supporting immigrants.
Some say they wish there was more help from people who know their language or that there isn't a large enough ethnic community they can connect with.
Overall, though, they say Cedar Rapids is welcoming and a great place to live.
"I think we're headed in the right direction," Bwenge says.