A University of Northern Iowa professor’s been studying immigrants who came to Iowa for meatpacking jobs, and says they’re turning into citizens. Mark Grey heads up the UNI “New Iowans Program” that helps companies and communities adjust to immigrant workers and he’s found those newcomers moving out of meatpacking and into other jobs, at the invitation of employers. He says in Marshalltown, almost half the non-meatpacking employers are hiring immigrants for jobs like construction and manufacturing — and up to 1000 Latinos are employed in those jobs. As they move up and earn bigger incomes, Grey says some Iowa towns credit immigrants with revitalizing their housing markets. He says the Asians and Latinos also start up their own businesses, and Grey points to Storm lake where immigrants own fourteen businesses in a town of just 10-thousand people.In general, the first businesses they open serve their fellow immigrants with things like food, clothing and services, and Grey says it’s fun to watch the change as a mostly-Mexican neighborhood evolves to have businesses that are “Anglo” just like the rest of the community. Grey says the best way to ease the transition of newcomers is to put money into programs like the “New Iowans Centers” that help immigrants with job applications, housing, and language classes. He says they’re cheap to run and provide services to thousands of people and he thinks “they’re worth every dime.” Grey says the newcomers will eventually offer the same rewards German and Scandinavian immigrants did 120 years ago. Grey gave his perspective (Friday) to lawmakers on the house and senate economic development committee.
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