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Immigrants crucial to Ohio economy, report says

By Encarnacion Pyle • Feb 22, 2017 at 7:30 PM

Omar D'Angelo and his family moved to Columbus in 2000 to escape a crippling financial collapse that devastated the middle class in their native Argentina.

Shortly after arriving here, he started helping his parents bake cakes and other South American confections for family members and friends. At the same time, he was learning English, taking college classes and working full time at an automotive assembly plant.

Although D'Angelo was initially interested in becoming an architect, he decided to stay faithful to his roots.

"My father was a baker, and I started helping with our family's bakery when I was 7 years old," he said.

D'Angelo is just one example of how the United States' growing immigrant population is creating businesses, generating income and taxes and jump-starting the economy in Ohio and beyond, according to a new report being released today.

Ohio is home to more than 480,000 foreign-born residents, including 151,231 who live in the Columbus metropolitan area, according to a new report by New American Economy, a bipartisan group of more than 500 mayors and business leaders who support immigration reforms to help create jobs.

D'Angelo and his family opened D'Angelo's Bakery in 2009 in their Whitehall home. By 2014, they had changed the name to Barroluco — named for a stacked grilled-meat-and-cheese sandwich beloved in Argentina — to reflect the business's larger menu.

Last year, D'Angelo, 35, and his family added a food truck to their growing side business to take their Latino and European flavors, such as empanadas, paella and sweets such as alfajores (cookies sandwiched with dulce de leche and rolled in shredded coconut), throughout central Ohio.

"I've succeeded because of my willingness to work hard and the opportunities given to me," said D'Angelo, who graduated with honors from Franklin University in 2013 with a degree in business administration. "So giving back to organizations that helped me along the way is dear to my heart."

Immigrants can be found in every kind of job, from builders to college professors, and they play a crucial role in health care and the science, technology, engineering and mathematics — or STEM — fields, the report says.

Despite making up only 4.2 percent of Ohio's population (7.6 percent in the Columbus area), immigrants represented 13.9 percent of all STEM workers in the state in 2014, the latest available data, the group said. Similarly, in 2016, more than 1 in 4 physicians in Ohio were graduates of a foreign medical school, a likely sign that they were born outside the U.S.

"Refugees and immigrants are a key, but unappreciated, player in economic innovation," said Seleshi Asfaw, executive director of Ethiopian Tewahedo Social Services in Columbus, which helps international newcomers improve their lives.

As in most other cities, immigrants in Columbus are more likely to be working-age — defined as being between 25 and 64 years old — than are U.S.-born residents, the group said. This will help the local and national economy continue to grow as the country's U.S.-born population ages, said Columbus economist Bill LaFayette.

"Although our overall numbers of immigrants are still low, they have been growing fast the past 15 years and were responsible for a substantial fraction of growth in our region," said LaFayette, owner of the consulting firm Regionomics.

Nationally, immigrants who graduate from college are 17.2 percent more likely to hold a graduate degree than natives. Also, a high number have something less than a bachelor's degree, allowing them to fill positions at the high and low ends of the workforce that might otherwise remain unfilled, according to New American Economy.

Immigrants are more entrepreneurial than the U.S. average, said Carla Williams-Scott, director of the city's Department of Neighborhoods. Immigrant workers make up 6.7 percent of all entrepreneurs in Ohio, and their businesses generated nearly $532 million in business income in 2014, according to the report.

In all, immigrants in Ohio earned $15.6 billion in 2014 and contributed $4.4 billion in local, state and federal taxes that year, the study found.

In the coming months, Columbus will look for new ways to showcase the contributions of immigrants, Williams-Scott said, and for better ways to help them leverage their strengths so they can achieve the "American dream."

"They want the same things that we all do: to work, raise their families and create a better life for their children," she said.

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©2017 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)

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