Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Press Conference Heralds Open Season for Courting Immigrants

Posted By on Tue, Apr 5, 2011 at 3:10 PM


Regional leaders gathered Tuesday at the former BP Building to celebrate the launch of Global Cleveland, a new program designed to stem the tide of Cleveland’s outward migration by courting immigrants to live and work here.

The program’s key announcements included news of a Global Cleveland Welcome Hub, a sort of service center for newcomers that will occupy space in the soon-to-be-renamed Huntington Building (formerly BP) downtown. Hub staffers will market the region to potential immigrants and align new arrivals with housing and work or study opportunities, according to Global Cleveland Chairman Baiju Shah.

Also introduced Tuesday were representatives from area groups that ponied up the first $1 million of funding, including Huntington Bank ($500K), the Cleveland Foundation ($150K), and Forest City Enterprises ($150K).

The press conference was attended by Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, County Executive Ed FitzGerald, city councilmembers, and dozens of behind-the-scenes players who helped bring the program to fruition.

“Maybe English isn’t the first language of the people coming here, but after today, ‘Cleveland’ will be,” said Councilman Joe Cimperman, the son of a Slovenian immigrant.

Among the cavalcade of speakers, County Exec FitzGerald was the lone voice to acknowledge the common controversy that accompanies efforts to court immigrants in other regions, mostly involving the perceived threat to the resident workforce. FitzGerald conceded that the course of Global Cleveland is riddled with uncertainty, but that pursuing immigrants is the "morally" right thing to do.

“The area had to make a decision as to which stream it was going to follow,” he said.

FitzGerald also garnered the event’s best line, after multiple speakers were thwarted by an uncooperative microphone: “We don’t know the role [the newcomers] will play … they might be involved in making more reliable sound systems.”

A key facet behind Global Cleveland’s courtship of immigrants is a glut of 20,000 currently available jobs in the area, according to numbers Shah cited from the state-run website ohiomeansjobs.com. He added that the jobs span a wide variety of skill levels. It was not clear how these 20,000 jobs have thus far eluded the tens of thousands of unemployed workers already living in the region.

Global Cleveland will officially commence operations May 24 with a public celebration to be held at City Hall.

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