Hot Topics: Immigration and the Minnesota economy

Staff photo by Connor Cummiskey

Minnesota Chamber of Commerce Senior Vice President William Blazer presented information of the impact of immigration on Minnesota during the Hot Topics lunch program at the New Ulm Country Club, Thursday.

Staff photo by Connor Cummiskey Minnesota Chamber of Commerce Senior Vice President William Blazer presented information of the impact of immigration on Minnesota during the Hot Topics lunch program at the New Ulm Country Club, Thursday.

NEW ULM — Immigrants and the Minnesotan economy were the topic of Thursday’s Hot Topics lunch.

William Blazer, the senior vice president of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, explained immigrants served four major roles when it came to the state economy.

“First, certainly, as workers,” Blazer said. “Secondly, as entrepreneurs, starting businesses. Third, as consumers, shoppers on main street and elsewhere, and fourth as a bridge to the world economy.”

Immigrants are virtually the only growing source of workers in the state. The birth rate has dropped so dramatically that without immigrants, the high demand for workers would only get worse.

“If we put a wall around Minnesota and did not let anybody in, we would actually lose people because our birth rate is lower,” Blazer said.

On one slide, Blazer compared domestic and international migration. Domestically, 10,451 people left the state between 2005 and 2013, according to Census Bureau estimates.

On the other hand, 21,279 international migrants entered the state during the same period. That leaves a net growth of migration of 10,828 people from outside the United States.

“That immigrant population is young and getting younger,” Blazer said. “So not only are these folks coming to Minnesota but they are of prime working age.”

Allowing immigrants in is important, Blazer argued, because without them Minnesota’s workforce would shrink, leaving businesses in the lurch.

Without the necessary workers here, those businesses may look outside the U.S. border for employees.

“My experience visiting Minnesota companies is that they have very little patience for when they have the opportunity to grow and then cannot get the workers that they need to grow,” Blazer said.

Blazer also pointed out an interesting trend of immigrants dominating the high and low ends of education in the workforce.

Of workers with graduate degrees, 14.7 percent were immigrants versus 10.4 percent natives while at the same time 43.8 percent of immigrants had a high school education or less versus 32.3 percent of native-born workers.

“What I want to suggest or leave you with is that, these folks as workers are contributing at every level of this state’s economy and I see no change in that trend,” Blazer said.

Beyond the workforce, immigrants also serve as entrepreneurs. Six percent of Minnesota businesses are immigrant-owned.

Along with that, 38.9 percent of Fortune 500 companies in the state were founded by immigrants or their children, according to Blazer’s presentation. They also lead major companies including 3M, Medtronic and Best Buy.

Immigrants make up 8 percent of the state’s population, according the Partnership for a New American Economy. They spend $8.9 billion on retail statewide, or 8.7 percent of total retail spending.

In the First Congressional District, which includes Brown County, they make up 5.6 percent of the population and spend $771 million.

“These folks who come to Minnesota, they usually have a different language, a very different culture and usually a very different religion but the one thing that they pick up quick is, they learn to shop just like all of us,” Blazer said.

Immigrants also serve to bridge the state to the world economy. The economy is becoming increasingly globalized, and Blazer argued there is no putting that cat back in the bag.

He illustrated his point by showing examples of foreign companies investing in Minnesota industries from Polymet to Faribault Foods.

Immigrants add diversity to the state that says the world economy is welcome, Blazer wrote on a slide.

Blazer wrapped up with a quick four-point goal for immigration reform. His list was: streamline administration, make immigration systems responsive to economic change, add an earned status for undocumented immigrants and finally secure the borders.

Blazer argued that the first three steps would bring the border much greater security on their own.

“If the system does not work, people are gonna go around it and that is exactly what they have been doing,” Blazer said. “So fix the system and the border is more secure.”

Ultimately, this is nothing new, Blazer argued. Back in 1900, 35 percent of Minnesotans were foreign-born, a phenomenon Blazer argued goes in cycles.

“Now we are heading for another cycle,” Blazer said. “This new cycle is different countries, but I would argue it is largely the same as what it was 100 years ago — just different people.”

Connor Cummiskey can be emailed at ccummiskey@nujournal.com.

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