Not My Parents’ Macomb County

This week, the One Macomb initiative, a County-initiated forum and resource for all matters relating to the enhancement of diversity and inclusion in Macomb County, released compelling new research about the incredible diversity and economic contributions that immigrants bring to Macomb County. When I was a high school student in the 1980s, the folks I ran into from Macomb County (and the reputation of the county) were white working-class folks. (Truth be told—my interactions with folks from Macomb County largely revolved around high school debate competitions with Sterling Heights Stevenson and Utica Eisenhower often winning tournaments in which I competed.) In fact Macomb County developed a reputation in 1980 as the home of the “Reagan Democrats”. As recently as 1990, the U.S. Census reported that Macomb County was 96% white.

The data released by One Macomb, obtained as part of the Gateways for Growth program from Welcoming America and the New American Economy, shatters this antiquated view of Macomb County, particularly in regards to the foreign-born. Macomb County is home to almost 90,000 immigrants, making Macomb county more internally diverse than Wayne County (Macomb is 10.4% foreign born, while Wayne is only 8.4%. Oakland is almost at the national average and is 12.4%).

Did you know that Sterling Heights has the second largest immigrant population with 36,610 of any Michigan city, trailing Detroit by only a couple thousand immigrants. At 27.8% foreign-born, Sterling Heights is more than twice as foreign-born as the nation as a whole.

Other important facts undergird the tremendous economic contributions that Macomb County’s immigrants make. There are nearly 5,000 self-employed immigrants whose businesses generate over $50 million in business income in 2014. These businesses represent 15% of all the businesses in Macomb County. Macomb County’s immigrants are highly educated. 35.1% possess a four-year degree or graduate degree (compared to 23.6% of Macomb’s U.S.-born population, and slightly more than 26% for the state as a whole).

Other interesting facts included in the data are that most (62.3%) immigrants in the county have become naturalized citizens. Top countries of origin are diverse and include Iraq (24.5%), India (8.2%), Poland (6.7%), Phillippines (4.9%), and Bangladesh (4.7%), with 51% of the immigrants coming from other countries not in the top five. Lastly, 38.3% of the immigrants who moved to Macomb County in the recent past came from outside the U.S. directly to Macomb County, 41.1% came from other Michigan communities, and 20.6% came from other U.S. states.

In short, immigrants to Macomb County have helped make the county a vibrant place. From contributing the skills to the county’s dynamic defense, automotive design, and health industries, to helping to revitalize the commercial and residential neighborhoods in older inner-ring suburbs like Warren and Sterling Heights, immigrants are an important part of the county’s fabric. One Macomb has developed an operating agreement for the Macomb County Diversity and Inclusion Collaborative signed by more than two dozen partner agencies, including Global Detroit, and is poised to help Macomb continue to be a place where all individual and groups live, work, and recreate harmoniously with all others, and participate fully, equally, and equitably in all institutions and aspects of Macomb County life.

A similar Gateways for Growth data release on immigrant contributions for the city of Detroit is scheduled for Thursday, May 4. Subscribe to Global Detroit’s email newsletters for details on that press conference.

Steve Tobocman, executive director, Global Detroit

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