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Immigration reform can help spur economic growth

A recent Rutgers Regional Report, “Employment Recession and Recovery in the 50 States: An Update,” ranks the 50 states by the percentage of the Great Recession’s private-sector job losses that have been recovered as of June 2012.

The authors, Joseph J. Seneca and Will Irving, wrote, “The impacts of the recession continue to be profound and affect many dimensions of American life. This is not surprising given that the basic labor-market facts are compelling and remain deeply sobering. The nation lost 8,833,000 private-sector jobs during a 26-month period….As of June 2012, nearly two-and-a-half years later, the nation had recovered just under half (49.3 percent, or 4,372,000 private-sector jobs) of these losses.”

They concluded, “Only a relatively few states, led mostly by those with significant energy-production and related activities, have regained all of the private-sector job losses that were incurred….Even this, however, would still not address the additional job needs implicit from what expected expansion of the labor force at normal labor force participation rates…would entail. Thus, increasing the rate of job growth remains a deeply compelling national priority.”

It is in this context that an aspect of immigration reform is taking place: There is currently a proposal before Congress to increase the number of visas to foreign-born graduates of American universities seeking opportunities in the United States in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math. This proposal would have a positive and long-lasting impact on our nation’s economy.

Studies have demonstrated that for every foreign graduate with an advanced degree from a U.S. university who stays in this country and works in a STEM field, the economy generates on average 2.62 jobs for American workers as a consequence of the investments in research, development and industry made possible by the availability of these technical workers.

Growing up in Camden and later serving as a city councilman there, I experienced how the process of disinvestment can lead communities to despair. Years later, when I taught urban economics at Eastern University in St. Davids, Penn., I became intrigued by the factors that drive business investment decisions.

I was fortunate that I was able to spend time observing and implementing economic development strategies, first as one of Mayor Ed Rendell’s volunteer business ambassadors for Philadelphia, then as New Jersey’s secretary of Commerce, and subsequently with a global commercial real estate firm representing companies making location decisions. During this time, I have visited many jurisdictions that are economic centers of excellence and many that aspire to be.

A lesson I learned in all of my work is that technology and the life sciences are multifaceted, influential and fluid industry clusters capable of transforming economic regions as diverse as Research Triangle Park, Singapore, Israel, Silicon Valley, Boston’s Route 128 Corridor, and New York State’s Capital Region, to name a few. Today’s world measures progress by the technological advancement achieved by regions and countries. Technology makes life simpler and helps us achieve a better lifestyle. It also drives the political and economic stability of a nation or region.

And it cannot happen without knowledge workers. Projections indicate that many technical positions in the U.S. cannot be filled without immigration reform. By 2018 there will be a deficit of more than 230,000 advanced degree workers in STEM-related fields that cannot be filled even if every new American STEM graduate finds employment. An increase in visas for foreign-born graduates of American universities in STEM fields would help bring new economic activity and employment growth to the United States.

Gualberto “Gil” Medina, executive managing director
Cushman & Wakefield, Inc.
East Rutherford

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