VOICES: How immigration reform can help solve Ohio’s workforce crisis

Over my career as a State Senator, a U.S. Congressman and now the Ohio Chamber of Commerce CEO, I’ve come to believe that global talent is a key ingredient to our economic vitality. Of course, the Ohio Chamber supports getting people to move to Ohio from other states, but we also need to attract talent from other countries, as well. With our rapidly aging population and global competitors intent on stealing our foreign-born university graduates, we need a new approach to attracting and retaining talent.

That’s why one year ago, the Chamber joined Ohio Business for Immigration Solutions (OBIS), a coalition of Ohio businesses, trade organizations, city chambers and economic development groups who support common sense immigration reform. Ohio’s business community knows the status quo isn’t an option to solve our workforce issues, so we advocate for policies that will grow the workforce and help us fill job vacancies. For example, improving access to green cards for in-demand sector employees and increasing work visa quotas for foreign workers to reflect current skills gaps.

It’s been tremendous to see the business community stand up to tackle the workforce crisis. Over the last 12 months, OBIS tripled in growth, from 20 to almost 70 members, and now includes every geographic region of Ohio and business sector, from healthcare and manufacturing to agriculture and tech. We’ve brought business leaders into roundtable discussions with elected officials and given them a platform to share their personal stories. So many of our businesses have real-life examples of how immigrants helped to turn things around.

Take for example Ross McGregor, the president of Pentaflex Inc. He recently joined OBIS because he believes immigration reform can help alleviate workforce issues. Like many business owners, he is not only facing a labor shortage but also high turnover rates. He recently hired 20 Haitian immigrants to stabilize his workforce and reduce turnover. At first, there was a language barrier, but that issue was quickly addressed by translating working instructions to the workers’ native language. The Haitian workers are reliable and hardworking employees. This positive experience led him to become a member of OBIS and share his story with policy makers at all levels of government.

Attracting and retaining global talent also has benefits beyond the business community. It creates a more robust tax base; foreign-born Ohioans paid $6 billion in taxes in 2019, according to New American Economy. Immigrants also have a positive impact on entrepreneurship, as immigrants launch new businesses at significant rates; today, more than 29,000 foreign-born entrepreneurs create services and support our local economies across Ohio. Finally, immigrants are key to economic recovery. A new report from NAE assessing the aftermath of the Great Recession, found that metro areas with more immigrants were able to recover faster than others. On average, each additional percentage point of foreign-born residents was associated almost 800 more employed workers in 2015.

I’m proud that Ohio attracts global talent to our doorstep. And I’m proud that business leaders see the vital role that newcomers play in our communities. We are building a movement for our businesses, for our economy, and for all of our Buckeye neighbors. We hope you will join us.

Steve Stivers is the CEO of the Ohio Chamber of Commerce.

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