Richard Herman response to Sanda Kaufman on”Immigration is not a magic bullet for regional economic development”

I think Sanda Kaufman, Ph.D., professor of Planning, Policy, and Public Administration at Cleveland State University, is a brilliant scholar , an immigrant success story, and a well-intentioned, kindred spirit.

But I’m not quite sure what to make of her Op-Ed, “Immigration Is Not Magic Bullet for Regional Economic Development, in today’s Plain Dealer, which appears to be supporting the Mayor’s comments and immigration policies, or lack thereof.

First, the piece states:

A decade ago, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson’s task force on immigration approached the Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs at Cleveland State University for data and analysis to help city officials explore immigration as a means of growth for the city. Based on our research, we concluded that investing public resources to attract immigrants is not a magic bullet for regional economic development. In fact, it might not be a wise use of scarce public resources on which to pin hopes for rebuilding the city.”


As far as I can tell, the research that Dr. Kaufman conducted on immigration and Cleveland was commissioned by in 2002 and published in May, 2003.  Frank Jackson was not Mayor.  Jane Campbell occupied City Hall.  Jane Campbell convened an immigration task force, not Frank Jackson.

Second, Dr. Kaufman favorably refers to the Frank Jackson’s controversial immigration-related comments that were made at his recent State of the City address..  She writes:

“Given Cleveland’s current population makeup, a strategy aiming to rapidly grow immigrant communities may be an uphill battle; it will not significantly bolster the economy in the short run. As with all development efforts, do not think of immigrants as a quick fix to the city’s or region’s population decline…..Since we can’t afford to waste scarce public resources, we have to hope that decision makers’ mental models of where immigrants choose to go match reality and are supported by data. It is important to make the best use of what we have, know what we are reasonably likely to attain, manage resources effectively and measure success in quality-of-life terms rather than just changes in population size.

Taking care of our own, no matter their origin or ethnicity, is a good first step toward attracting others. Then, if and when needed immigration reform occurs, we will be better positioned to welcome any groups who want to call Cleveland home.”

For some reason, the link on Frank Jackon’s phrase “taking care of our own” phrase, takes the reader to this plain dealer page which contains no relevant information, instead of this plain dealer page which contains criticism from Brian Tucker (editor of Crain’s), Dan Moulthrop, myself, and others, of Mayor Frank Jackson’s statements, policies and inaction on immigration –related issues.

Rather than supporting Frank Jackson’s statement (and record on the issue), many people were perplexed by his response to a question from the audience on whether Cleveland should embrace the immigration-based economic development strategies being touted by a growing chorus of mayors or other elected officials in Philadelphia, Baltimore, Dayton, Detroit,  St. Louis, Indianapolis, and elsewhere.

Folks shouldn’t have been surprised.

Frank Jackson has said this many times before.  This was published in Immigrant, Inc. in 2009, by Robert Smith and myself, reprinted in the Plain Dealer:

“An aversion to immigrants permeated the region’s political leadership and peaked at City Hall. Mayor Frank Jackson dismissed suggestions that the city try to attract immigrants to revive inner city neighborhoods that were mostly black and poor. Jackson, a multi-racial mayor who identified most strongly with his African American roots, told civic groups he did not trust immigrants to help his people.

If someone else wanted to try to draw immigrants to Cleveland, “I will not be against it,” Jackson told The Plain Dealer in early 2009. “However, as we move ahead, I’m always interested in the self-help mode, in taking care of our own.”


Apart, from his words, his actions over the last 7 ½ years also tell the story.

Starting with his treatment of the Somali and Ethiopian-owned taxi companies who were excluded from working at the Hopkins Airport, failure to hire immigrants in significant positions at City Hall, and extending to his disinterest to implement immigrant-friendly policies at City Hall, the Mayor’s actions have spoken volumes on his view of immigrants and their role in Cleveland’s economic, political and civic circles.

Rather than try to unite the city and lead this discussion on diversity, inclusion and global competitiveness, the Mayor has run away from the challenge. And the city has suffered and fallen behind other cities which are now growing.

Dr. Kaufman argues that people-based strategies are key to attracting the immigrants most likely to come to Cleveland.  It is true, as Dr. Kaufman point out, that immigrants coming to cities like Cleveland are often drawn by personal relationships.

I couldn’t agree more.  Taking care of the immigrants we have, supporting them, celebrating them, connecting and integrating them into our community is key.  When they are comfortable and successful, their family and friends will follow

But I respectfully disagree with Dr. Kaufman’s recent piece that seems to suggest that because resources are scarce, we shouldn’t be investing so much in people-based strategies.

I believe that the creation of an “immigrant-friendly” city will not happen organically, at least not within the next few generations.  For it to happen in the next 10 years, we will need to make a big push for raising awareness on why immigration is important to Cleveland, on changing  attitudes,  on policies of inclusion at all levels of local government, corporations, foundations, etc.

This will take tremendous civic investments — not so much in financial capital, but in leadership and political capital.

In fact, Dr. Kaufman’s 2003 paper “Immigration and Urban Development:  Immigrations for Greater Cleveland,” (funded by Ruth Ratner Miller Center for Greater Cleveland’s Future) suggests that a robust effort be embraced to create a welcoming environment for new immigrants to Cleveland:

“Therefore, the challenge for the Cleveland region is to design strategies that compete successfully with other cities that are positioned to attract immigration, as well as enable Cleveland to target those immigrant groups with the highest likelihood of succeeding at their new location, either because of their skills matching local demand or because existing immigrant communities might assist in their absorption.


A key component of such strategies is to help build the social networks that immigrants are known to favor in order to ease the transition to their country of adoption. To this end, several complementary streams of action should be considered:


▪ Learn from the experience of larger immigration magnets about absorption services local governments can offer, focusing on those most likely to assist newcomers and become an incentive for choosing of the Cleveland region.


▪ Capitalize on already-existing immigrant communities in the region and assist them in becoming adept at welcoming newcomers by strengthening existing nonprofits and private local initiatives to attract immigrants from specific countries.


▪ Education efforts, whether government-initiated or sponsored by non-profit and private groups, are necessary to alleviate the inevitable tensions created by the arrival to a region of people with different languages and cultures.


It seems that once the seeds of such efforts are planted, they have a tendency to snowball as positive experiences with intercultural contacts lead the local population to be more welcoming of immigrants and, in turn, become incentives for newcomers to come to the region seeking the positive climate, and the advantages of developed social networks”



On this point, Dr. Kaufman is right on the money!    But the Mayor has done none of this.  And, in fact, talks of going the other way.

Our current Mayor is not willing to expend financial or political capital to do this. (heck, he wouldn’t even sign the sister-city agreement last month with the mayor of Zhongshan, China, a city of 5 million people, the LED capital of the world, despite nearly 2 million dollars flowing from Zhongshan into Cleveland development project, despite affluent families in Zhongshan sending their kids to Catholic High School in Cleveland, and despite the roots of many Chinese-Americans in Greater Cleveland in the Guandong Province.    An embarrassing moment for the Cleveland business/political/education/cultural trade mission last month )

As a result, others are less likely to enter the discussion or take leadership roles.  For example, Cleveland is losing a tremendous opportunity right now, in not aggressively advocating for region-based visas (or “high skilled immigration zones”)  as part of the immigration reform discussion in D.C.  For more on the policy adopted by the Great Lakes Metro Chambers (30 chambers from Chicago to Pittsburgh), see

In fact, the Great Lakes Metro Chamber immigration policy was drafted out of Cleveland.  But Cleveland business leaders will not push this kind of creative, progressive, gamechaging  proposal unless there is serious commitment on the ground in Cleveland.  Which doesn’t yet exist.  In part because of a vacuum of leadership and in part because of indifference or opposition.

Another example of a missed opportunity, in part due to a vacuum of leadership  on the issue, is leveraging refugee resettlement programs funded by the U.S. State Department.  Minneapolis has attracted over 100,000 refugees in the last 20 years which has boosted its tax base, home ownership and small business sector.

And Dr. Kaufman’s study in 2003 recommended special outreach to Latino immigrants, particularly Mexican.  Nothing out of City Hall, other than Cinco de Mayo, seems to indicate buy-in or even casual interest from Frank Jackson.

But, all is not doom and gloom.  There are plenty of small things happening.  We don’t have to wait, or plan new research papers or books to make the case.

The economic case has been made for the global city.

What has to happen is to win the hearts and minds of the community.  A new conversation built on trust, intercultural alliances, and friendship needs to happen.  The key is raise awareness and demonstrate that economic growth is not a zero sum game.

Cleveland, it seems, has struggled with this issue for over 10 years.  Much money and time has been expended.   The academics, PR whizzes, the politicians, the lawyers, have all taken their stab at it.  It’s time to take the conversation to the people.

But it is also critical that corporate and willing-political leadership join this conversation.

This is why a group of us are working on establishing Welcoming Cleveland —-  a grassroots, people-driven conversation to encourage intercultural alliances between African Americans, Latinos and Immigrants, welcoming them and connecting them to Cleveland.

For us, it’s not about building an immigrant city, or a black or white city.  It’s about building a multicultural, global city— and ensuring that prosperity is equitably shared.

We are applying to be an affiliate of Welcoming America.


Immigration-based economic development strategies have never been about being a “magic bullet.”  Those working on the issue know that immigration is a supplement, not a substitute, to ensuring the education and readiness of the American workforce.

It’s about building the most powerful teams on the planet — and competing to win.

Let’s not shy away from this conversation —- let’s run toward it.

Join us!

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