Yankton leaders are looking ahead to how they may enhance the city’s workforce and culture.
One potential option has continually popped up — immigration.
During Yankton Area Progressive Growth’s (YAPG) annual meeting on Tuesday, Erica DeLeon, director of One Siouxland — an affiliate of the SIouxland Community Foundation — keynoted the event, talking about her group’s effort to help bring and integrate newcomers into the Sioux City area.
DeLeon said that immigrants — as they were so many years ago — are still one of the keys to growth in the country.
“One of the things I think stands out the most is the economic impact immigrants can have on a community, not just in additional workforce and tax dollars, but also in purchasing homes and helping communities grow,” she said. “There have been studies that have shown, since World War II, none of our largest top 50 metro areas have grown without also growing their immigrant and refugee populations. It shows they’re filling jobs, growing tax bases, adding kids to the schools and growing our communities.”
She added that it’s one of the few choices for some communities if they aspire to grow.
“It’s really important that we focus on increasing the number of newcomers that we welcome into our communities,” she said. “Most communities across the country have such low unemployment rates right now that bringing more people into our communities is the only way we can grow.”
Throughout her presentation, DeLeon went over the impacts of immigration on communities and how to do it the right way in a smaller community.
DeLeon said communication is a key.
“So much of making people feel welcome is not just signs, but actual person-to-person communication,” she said. “(It’s about) helping them find the churches, find the grocery stores, find the business opportunities and getting their kids connected to schools and just helping people feel like this is their community and letting them have a connection outside of their home culture and being able to connect a bit more.”
She added that language barriers and knowledge of culture are a couple of the obstacles communities must often overcome with their newcomers.
“It’s natural for longtime residents to not understand,” she said. “A lot of it is just, ‘How do we get past some of that? How do we get to know people, even with the language barriers, ask questions and not be afraid to do that?’”
DeLeon said One Siouxland and other organizations have events to help integrate newcomers into their new communities.
DeLeon also addressed some misconceptions about undocumented workers.
“A lot of people assume undocumented workers only work for cash and so then aren’t paying income tax,” she said. “Some people do, but they still are paying sales tax and they still are paying gas tax and they still are paying property tax through renting or owning homes.”
She said many even file income taxes just as anyone else would.
“They’re not getting refunds,” she said. “They’re filing taxes because it’s one way to show the government that they’re trying to do the right thing. Then, if an opportunity does arise for them to become legal — and again, a lot of people never have that opportunity — they can show that they’ve had the good moral character of wanting to pay taxes and contribute to the country and community that they live in.”
According to DeLeon, Yankton is already well on its way to becoming a welcoming place for newcomers from faraway lands.
“The Connecting Cultures group that’s helping the business leaders interact with more cultures is a great step,” she said. “The cultural celebrations through Music on the Meridian is a great event. What an opportunity for people showcase their own cultures and bring the whole community together to celebrate differences. … The fact that workforce development is focusing so much on newcomer communities is also huge.”
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