Champions for Growth: Success stories shared

Our economy strongly benefits from robust immigration and business leaders are gravely concerned about the policies and messages coming from Washington, D.C. these days. That was the message delivered at Global Detroit’s Champions for Growth Happy Hour on March 13.

We may have chosen the worst weather night of the year to host our Champions for Growth Happy Hour, but plenty of people still braved the elements to join us at Ant Hall in Hamtramck. For two hours, our panelists and guests engaged in frank and honest conversation about what effect recent policy changes might have on Metro Detroit’s economy. It wasn’t all charts and data, though; in fact, our panelists focused on the personal impact immigration to Detroit makes. And since Edi Demaj, Lizabeth Ardisana, Kirk Mayes and Tati Amare were each uniquely and personally shaped by their immigration experience (or that of their parents), their stories gave life to the statistics of immigration policy.

Tati Amare, our moderator, started us off by talking about coming to America from Addis Ababa. When she first moved from Los Angeles to New York City after high school, Tati felt completely separate from the people around her. She felt like an outsider, a stranger, she said, but not for long. The diverse neighborhood in Brooklyn soon became home as she got to know her neighbors from many different parts of the world. “My story is just like anyone else’s,” Tati told us, “We came here looking for a better life, and we found it.” For Tati, moving to Detroit was a chance to experience the same exhilaration of meeting new faces and welcoming strangers.

Rocket Fiber co-founder and serial entrepreneur Edi Demaj traveled with his family as a child in search of peace. Escaping war-torn Kosovo with his parents just before he turned 14, Edi saw America as “heaven,” he told the crowd. “We had lost everything back home, including some loved ones,” he said. “For us, moving to the U.S., it was a change to be reborn. Not only did we make it out of the war, but we got to move to the greatest country in the world.” Edi firmly believes that to be true, and his description of first arriving as a wide-eyed teenager was enthralling.

Lizabeth Ardisana, owner of the tech and communications firm ASG Renaissance, has found inspiration for her career in several places. Among them is the experience of her parents, who emigrated to the U.S. from Cuba. Lizabeth also found through working with multinational talent that “if we didn’t have an immigrant population that came here and wanted to work, my business wouldn’t survive and our economy wouldn’t survive either.” The talent and innovation brought by immigrants to the United States, Lizabeth explained, have built the competitive economy that exists today. Since “some very smart people made very difficult decisions so that we could take advantage of what we do in the United States,” it’s up to us to keep welcoming innovators.

Kirk Mayes, Forgotten Harvest’s CEO, may have been born and raised in Detroit, but his Jamaican-born parents instilled a sense of welcoming and acceptance in him that he has carried throughout his life in Detroit. Kirk spoke of the human story as one of evolution through interaction. “If we hope to evolve as a human species, we need to bump into each other. We need to get to know each other, to taste each other’s food. We need to be able to let our kids grow up with these different sensibilities so that as a human species we can become more intelligent and responsive and sensitive to each other and the planet that we live on.” He’s found in his work that the more we tell our diverse stories, the smaller the globe seems.

And he’s right. The stories our guests told on Monday night did indeed bring us all closer together: as Detroiters, as business leaders, and as citizens of the planet.

In our first 10 days of the Champions for Growth campaign, nearly 150 business and community leaders have signed our pledge. The pledge will serve to communicate to leaders in our region and across the nation that immigrants are important to our economic health—that immigrants create jobs and raise prosperity of all of us. Providing the facts about immigration can help to guide sensible federal, state, and local policies that will enable our economy to grow and our region’s economic recovery. If you haven’t signed the pledge yet, do it today. You can sign it here.

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