The St. Louis region was the fastest growing region for foreign born people in 2015.
That’s according to folks with the St. Louis Mosaic Project, an initiative aimed at increasing the number of immigrants in the St. Louis metro area.
It was formed in 2013 after some ground breaking research in 2012 about the importance of having immigrants in the community.
“The research showed that because we have less than five percent foreign born, we were missing economic opportunity and we’re missing population growth,” said Executive Director Betsy Cohen.
Cohen said they came up with a simple goal.
“The goal in 2013 was that by 2020, the St. Louis region would be the fastest growing for foreign born of the top 20 major metropolitan areas. We actually achieved that in 2015.”
The St. Louis region currently has about four percent of immigrants. That’s 122,430 people and 7,073 of them are entrepreneurs.
Cuong Dang is one of those entrepreneurs.
“I was born and raised in Vietnam and I came here when I was 20 years old and I spoke a little bit of English,” Dang said.
Dang now co-owns Enliven, a software consulting company, and hires numerous people from the area.
While he never knew St. Louis would become his long-term home, he added that the opportunities here helped make him stay.
“We have support from people from all over the world. Venture capitals, those companies bring investment elsewhere and bring companies from overseas to come here because they want to award them these funds and have opportunity to build businesses here,” he said.
That's the idea behind the St. Louis Mosaic Project. It’s to attract and keep foreign born people in St. Louis who can in turn contribute to the community.
“The research supports that foreign born people are job creators. They are more entrepreneurial. Thirty percent more likely than our native born to actually start businesses that then hires all of us as well as they are contributing to neighborhood growth, restaurants, traffic, buying power,” said Executive Director Betsy Cohen.
Research also shows that immigrants are 130 percent more likely to have an advanced degree.
Cohen said that’s a needed factor because almost 17 thousand jobs are unfilled in the stem fields. So as more companies move here with more IT jobs, they are looking to retain people in that field.
“We have to develop local talent, native born people to grow into the job but we’re also going to need international people. We’re going to need Visas for international talent and we’re also going to retain more of our international students, many of whom are in the high tech areas,” she said.
Data from 2014 shows that immigrants paid $1.1 billion in taxes and had $3 billion dollars in spending power.
The goal is to keep that going because it means good news for the St. Louis Metropolitan area.
“Our population as a region has been flat to declining and so if we are going to attract companies and have growth of entrepreneurs we need to be a dynamic region that actually shows growth and also that has multicultural people who are working together,” Cohen said.
It’s work Dang appreciates.
“I think they’ve done a phenomenal job to bring the attention to foreign born entrepreneurs who make up a huge part of the economy in the St. Louis area. We’ve seen it every day,” he said.
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