The city of Bowling Green is putting finishing touches on a strategic plan that will better help tie in new Americans – local immigrants and refugees – into the economy here.
For years, the city has led an effort – supported with funding through the national Gateways for Growth project and helmed by the New American Economy and Welcoming America organizations – to develop ways to keep new Americans working in the area. Now, a strategic plan offering such recommendations is in its final draft stages and set to be officially unveiled next month.
The planning effort involves multiple local stakeholders and includes a steering committee. Its representatives come from Western Kentucky University, the International Center of Kentucky, Community Action of Southern Kentucky, the Bowling Green Area Chamber of Commerce and the South Central Workforce Development Board, among others.
Leyda Becker, the city’s international communities liaison, said the goal is for stakeholders to see themselves in the plan.
“We hope that the agencies and the entities that have been involved in the process will take ownership of those recommendations and will work to implement them,” she said.
In general, foreign-born residents in the U.S. have higher employment rates than natives.
In 2018, the unemployment rate for foreign-born persons was 3.5 percent, down from 4.1 percent the previous year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Meanwhile, the jobless rate for native-born persons was 4 percent in 2018, down from 4.4 percent in 2017.
Locally, Bowling Green is a hub for migration and secondary migration, but many of those migrants work outside the region.
A study released last year and funded by a locally matched $12,500 grant through Gateways for Growth found that immigrants and refugees contributed more than $564 million to Warren County’s GDP in 2016.
Although they accounted for 9.3 percent of the county’s total population, they represented 10.3 percent of its employed labor force. Additionally, the study showed that more than a quarter of Warren County’s new Americans worked outside of the county.
“There’s this disconnect” between employees and employers, Becker said.
In June, with support from a Cincinnati-based consulting firm, the steering committee was formed and held its first strategic planning session.
The process since then has involved focus groups and the development of initial recommendations that were later pared down into a set of attainable goals for the steering committee to consider, Becker said.
The recommendations, 22 in total, rise above feats that any one agency could achieve on its own. Efforts to create resources and guides to help new Americans learn about pathways to skill trades, such as one-pagers translated into multiple languages, hinge on cooperation.
Workforce development resources exist here, Becker said, “they’re just not accessible to new Americans.”
Once the plan is in place, Becker said, the product itself could be used to seek funding sources for its implementation.
The strategic plan will be unveiled during a Jan. 21 event at Sloan Convention Center from noon to 1 p.m.
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