VOICES: Immigrants will help Ohio businesses ride out the ‘Big Quit’

Stephanie Keinath is VP for Strategic Initiatives at the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce. (CONTRIBUTED)

Credit: Caroline Williams

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Stephanie Keinath is VP for Strategic Initiatives at the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce. (CONTRIBUTED)

Credit: Caroline Williams

The Great Resignation is real. Working on the leadership team at the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce, I speak with business owners every day who are finding it almost impossible to fill vacant positions. From frontline jobs to highly skilled and technical positions, it simply isn’t possible for many of our 2,200 members to hire and retain the people they need.

That’s why the Dayton Area Chamber is working with Ohio Business for Immigration Solutions a coalition of over 75 businesses, trade groups, chambers, and economic development groups from around our state. Since late 2020, we’ve been working together to advocate for commonsense immigration reforms, and to make our communities more welcoming places for immigrant workers and foreign-born entrepreneurs.

The “Big Quit” is making life hard for local businesses. By the end of last year, the Dayton region’s unemployment rate had fallen to just 3.2%, the lowest it’s been since at least 1990 Roughly 200,000 workers across the state have opted out of the workforce, either because they’re retiring early or rethinking their career options And with up to 40% of Ohio college graduates moving out of state to pursue jobs, we urgently need an infusion of new workers to keep our economy going.

Fortunately, foreign-born workers are still eager to come to communities like ours, con tribute to the community and local economy and pursue the American Dream. In the Dayton region, immigrants account for nearly 69% of our total population growth. Though they account for just 4.6% of our population, they make up nearly 6% of our working age labor force, according to the American Immigration Council They also make up 12.7 of our STEM workers an especially important contribution in Dayton, where so many of our major employers are in the tech, defense, and aviation sectors.

And because immigrant workers help businesses stay in our area, rather than relocating to places with greater labor resources, it’s estimated that they have helped preserve well over 3,500 manufacturing jobs that would otherwise have been lost.

Sustaining those benefits requires action on a range of fronts. We need federal visa and green card reform that would create a more direct pipeline between our region’s amazing colleges and universities and our local businesses. The White House’s new international STEM worker rules make some headway here but it’s still far too difficult for international graduates to secure long-term employment in Ohio.

That’s why we can’t sit on our hands and wait for Congress or the White House We need to take action at the state and local level to support our immigrant neighbors who are preserving and creating jobs and make our communities welcoming places

At the Dayton Area Chamber, we’re doing just that. We help our members navigate the red tape that holds back guest worker and skilled worker visa applications. We help immigrant entrepreneurs to get the licenses and support they need to start businesses and create jobs. And we help talented international students to secure internships, connect with employers, and find work after they graduate.

Of course, we can’t fix America’s immigration system overnight. But we can — and must — support our new neighbors if we want to keep on growing the economy here in southwest Ohio. Immigrants are a crucial part of the solution to our labor shortages, and it’s time for us to come together—as a country, as a state, and as a local community — and do all we can to welcome them to America.

Stephanie Keinath is VP for Strategic Initiatives at the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce.

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