From the Director: Governor Snyder Gets in the Game

 

By Steve Tobocman

In his fourth State of the State Address, Governor Rick Snyder borrowed (with permission) two chapters from the Global Detroit playbook.  In launching a Michigan Office for New Americans and throwing his support behind the EB-5 Regional Center application for MSHDA, Governor Snyder emerged as not just one of the most pro-immigration governors in America for his rhetoric, but one of the most active governors in pursuing an economic development-focused immigration strategy.

In 2009, Snyder called for “an exciting new initiative to encourage immigrants with advanced college degrees to come to Michigan to live and work.”  His speech noted that Michigan “need[s] to be a place that openly encourages innovators and entrepreneurs to come to our state.  The evidence is clear that advanced college degree immigrants can make a tremendous difference in creating a positive economic activity environment that benefits us all. . . Immigration made us a great state and country.  It is time we embrace this concept again as a way to speed our reinvention.”

Since that speech, the Snyder Administration has supported Welcoming Michigan, with proclamations and quotes on the website, as well as providing generous financial support through the MEDC to the Michigan Global Talent Retention Initiative, the nation’s first international student retention program.  Both programs were launched by Global Detroit.  Governor Snyder’s team also provided tremendous support to the online professional licensing guides developed by Upwardly Global to assist skilled immigrants and refugees in fully employing their professional skills and educations in the Michigan workforce.

Launching an Office for New Americans is a significant next step to ensuring that this economic development strategy gets the attention and profile it deserves.  Similar offices (sometimes referred to as the Office of Immigrant Affairs, Office of Multicultural Affairs, or Office of Globalization) have been created in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Columbus, Dayton, and even Louisville with varying degrees of success.  The 2010 Global Detroit study recommended an Office of Global Affairs for the City of Detroit to raise the profile of immigration as an economic development strategy.  It sends a signal that Governor Snyder is serious, that he is committed to making our state welcoming, and that the complexities and broad reaches of an immigration economic development effort–not to mention the rapidly emerging nature of this field–require full-time attention and coordination.

By creating the Michigan Office of New Americans, Governor Snyder joins the ranks of the nation’s most visionary and committed elected leaders in embracing immigration for its positive impacts and potential.

The endorsement of MSHDA’s EB-5 investor visa regional center application also could be significant.  While Michigan already has six regional centers that have been approved by the Department of Homeland Security (why is this program not run by the Department of Commerce yet?  Oh yeah, Washington is in complete gridlock), few investments have been placed.  That is as much a reflection of developers and local economic development folks not identifying potential investment opportunities as it is a reflection on the EB-5 operators.

Many of MSHDA’s housing finance projects, by nature, require the projects to be in continuous operations (in order to meet tax credit financing requirements), and, thus, meet EB-5 job retention requirements as well. The deals are often located in distressed Census tracts.  Joe Borgstrom, the Director, Specialized Technical Assistance and Revitalization Strategy at MSHDA, deserves praise for assembling a solid strategy and approach with the MSHDA EB-5 center. Vermont has successfully utilized a governor’s endorsement to build investment capital in its center.  If you want to read more about EB-5 regional centers, there is an entire chapter in the 2010 Global Detroit study.

We look forward to working with Governor Snyder on these new developments, as we have on Global Michigan. With these new efforts, the State of Michigan will be a serious player at the Global Great Lakes Network table and a national leader in the field of immigrant economic development.  As a result, we can expect the continued high entrepreneurship, high-tech startup, and job creation from Michigan’s immigrants–one of the highlights of Michigan’s economic strengths.

 

Photo Credit: Andrew Kuhn at MLive.com

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