Immigration Plays a Critical Role in Northeast Indiana’s Economy

By: Michael Galbraith on December 4th, 2017

Topeka in LaGrange County Benefits from Diverse Community

For the staff at the Regional Partnership, life and interests continue after we leave work. For me, that is a second career in classical music. 

I’ve been a member of the Fort Wayne Philharmonic for decades, and this brings me to dozens of elementary schools every year. I was recently at the elementary school in Topeka in LaGrange County and was reminded of the economic importance of immigration. 

Topeka, as most of us know, is one of the centers of the Amish community in LaGrange County. Nearly 50 percent of the students at Topeka Elementary are Amish. The remaining kids are a mixture of “English” (a term commonly used for the non-Amish), Hispanic and Arabic. 

For many, including myself, I wondered about the high Arabic population in the center of Amish country.  About 10 percent of the students at Topeka Elementary School are Muslim. A Halal food store and a mosque contribute to a sense of place in the small community.

Drawn by the good manufacturing jobs, safe community, accepting neighbors and presence of other Muslims, Topeka has a vital Muslim community.

As Northeast Indiana looks at talent attraction and retention, and deals with workforce shortages in each of our 11 counties, attracting a skilled and diverse population offers the quickest fix to our problems. 

A recent study by New American Economy (NAE) and the Great Lakes Metro Chambers Coalition details the economic effect of immigrants in the Great Lakes area.

Immigrants play a large role in science, technology, engineering, math, medical and entrepreneurial fields.  For every unemployed Hoosier in working these STEM fields, there were 21 online jobs advertised. Foreign-born workers represent 7.3 percent of the total Great Lakes region’s population; however, they serve as 16.1 percent of the region’s STEM workforce. 

NAE also details the strength of the health care sector in the Midwest, with four of every five jobs created between 2000 and 2015 in the broad health care fields. Despite representing only 7.3 percent of the population, 27 percent of the area’s physicians and surgeons were foreign-born.

When it comes to entrepreneurship and small-business start-ups, immigrants have dramatically over-performed statistically.  More than 10 percent of the region’s entrepreneurs are foreign-born and a dramatic proportion of “Main Street” businesses are owned by immigrants.  More than 51 percent of our grocery stores, 40 percent of our gas stations, 38 percent of our dry cleaners and laundromats, and 27 percent of our restaurants are owned by immigrants.

In Northeast Indiana, we know we must encourage population growth, foster an entrepreneurial ecosystem, support local businesses and develop a strong STEM-focused workforce. As we focus on these efforts, Topeka becomes a great model for the positive outcomes of welcoming in-migration in a rural setting. 

Categories & Tags Quality of Life