The economic stability of Syracuse and other Rust Belt cities might very well hinge on refugees. More than 400 people have spent the past two days at the Marriott Syracuse Downtown to attend the Welcoming Economies Convening, a coalition of public and business leaders dedicated to resettling refugees. Co-Chair Steve Tobocman says that while refugee policy must have its roots in humanitarianism, we also shouldn’t ignore the refugee population’s economic contributions and potential.
"Particularly in rust belt cities like Syracuse, with declining populations, slower than average growth rates. Putting new people into the community actually grows the economic pie. We're finding they're a benefit to the economy, that they're job creators."
Rachel Peric is Deputy Director of Welcoming America.
"Change is hard when people come into the community. At the same time, clearly, not only is there this positive economic impact, but there are some things we can do to accelerate that. How do we make it a faster process for refugees to become Americans and to be contributing at their fullest potential."
Welcoming Economies’ finds that Upstate New York has a long tradition of resettling refugees by helping them build businesses and local economies. However, Tobocman says advocacy groups need to understand why working class Americans are nervous about immigration, and foster public dialogue.
"Their fears about how the economy has been changing are well founded. There is less job security, less income growth. But at the same time, leveling their fears at immigrants and refugees is completely misplaced."
Welcoming Economies Immigration Research Director David Kallick.
"When we're talking about growth, we have to talk about what kind of growth we want. The constituency for what that shared prosperity looks like. It's not about turning one group against the other and saying, 'oh it's because of you that I'm not getting any,' that's just not been true over these last years."
The conference has gained a national following in its five years, growing from only 11 represented cities and 150 attendees in 2013 to about two dozen cities and 400 attendees today.