New study reveals an international talent stream that cities are tapping to replenish lost population and grow the economy

Soon after earning his doctorate in physics at Case Western Reserve University, Hiroyuki Fujita, a Japanese immigrant, started a company that put his education to work. He had an idea for improving radio frequency coils, a key component in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines that doctors use to peer into the human body.

To launch Quality Electrodynamics, Fujita recruited seven physicists and engineers. Five of them were, like himself, immigrants. That ratio is understandable, a new study makes clear. Immigrants dominate the thin ranks of scientific workers in Northeast Ohio, as they are more likely to hold advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering and medicine.

What may be less obvious is the broader impact of that specialized talent. Today, QED employs more than 150 people in a state of the art manufacturing facility in Mayfield Village. Most of its employees are native-born Americans, many with no more than a high school diploma. They enjoy good wages and job security at a company that exports 90 percent of its medical devices.

In a new study, “New Americans and a New Direction: The Role of Immigrants in Reviving the Great Lakes Region,” the authors use Fujita’s story to make a larger point.  Far from taking jobs, immigrants are creating jobs in states like Ohio, Michigan and Indiana. They bring specialized skills that often help local companies to compete in the global economy, expand and hire.

More often than their native-born peers, immigrants launch their own businesses.

Released October 24 by New American Economy and the Great Lakes Metro Chambers Coalition, the study reveals that a relatively small group of people are having an outsized impact on the region’s economy.  Economic development officials took notice.

“This report is further evidence of what we already know, immigrants are driving economic growth in the Great Lakes region, and particularly in Greater Cleveland,” said Joe Roman, the President and CEO of the Greater Cleveland Partnership, which belongs to the chamber coalition.

Just seven percent of the region’s population, immigrants are fueling population growth in select cities, revitalizing main streets with new shops and businesses, and often supplying the skills the region needs to transition to a smart economy. In fact, the report concludes that immigrants may be essential to building a new economy that shares prosperity broadly.

“Without enough high-skilled talent to sustain our changing economy, working-class families will suffer,” it warns.


Cleveland’s world-class healthcare

The report takes special note of Cleveland’s fast-growing healthcare industry, which now employs more people than the manufacturing industry.  The researchers argue that skilled immigrants have helped to make Cleveland a center of world-class medical expertise, which in turn has generated thousands of jobs for working class residents who are overwhelmingly native born.

Though only 5 percent of the population of Greater Cleveland, immigrants make up:

  • 30 percent of the region’s doctors and surgeons
  • 20 percent of the region’s STEM workers, or people employed in science, technology, engineering and medicine
  • 10 percent of the region’s nurses and home health aides, an important contribution in an aging population

This infusion of talent ripples far and wide, the study notes. A robust healthcare industry has helped to make Cleveland a center of medical research and biotech startups, attracted more than $2 billion in venture capital, and created thousands of jobs for nurse’s aides, medical technicians and construction workers.

It has also helped to create an optimistic mood in a region that is now attracting a growing stream of educated young professionals.

“Although the city is still losing overall population,” the study notes, “such declines have slowed dramatically. And between 2000 and 2012, Cleveland’s percentage gain of young college graduates—a demographic crucial to the region’s growth—ranked the third largest in the nation, besting Silicon Valley and Portland, Oregon.”

This multiplier effect is seen in other industries, where a small infusion of talent has helped to create a much larger number of jobs. The study notes, for example, that immigrants are a key piece of the manufacturing revival in the Great Lakes region, as one in every seven manufacturing engineers is foreign born.

The study also offers cause for concern. Cleveland lags many other Great Lakes cities in the growth of its foreign-born population. While immigrants have helped cities like Minneapolis, Chicago, Columbus and Philadelphia to enjoy energizing growth, migration to Cleveland is only enough to soften a larger population decline.

Still, the study presents a way forward. By welcoming immigrants, and tapping immigrant talent, Cleveland can quicken its economic ascent and return to prominence as an economic power in the global economy.

“This study presents the facts that we can use to build our future,” said Joe Cimperman, the president of Global Cleveland. “What’s amazing is the impact we get from a relatively small number of immigrants. Imagine if we grow that population? Imagine if we tell more of the world how great of a city Cleveland is, and welcome them to come and make a life here? That’s economic development.”

The region’s top political leaders responded positively to the report and endorsed a welcoming strategy.

“Immigrants and refugees are a significant part of the tapestry that makes the City of Cleveland so unique,” Cleveland Mayor Frank G. Jackson said in a statement. “It is our job to welcome them and to provide them with the tools to succeed. It is no surprise to me that the Great Lakes Study is just one more validator to this fact.”

“Cuyahoga County has long thrived with the influx of immigrants to our region,” said Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish. “This study is clear – we continue to grow stronger as more immigrants come to work and live here. Our healthcare sector, which is one of our great strengths and one which I believe we need to continue to bolster and grow, is a clearly key to this growth. We must do everything we can to continue to attract and keep these individuals in our region.”

You can find the complete study at