Business leaders push for immigration reform to boost state economy

Published: Feb. 25, 2019 at 5:30 PM CST
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Felix Anaman became an American citizen Friday after coming to the U.S. from Ghana nearly eight years ago.

"Fashion brought me to America, and then love brought me to Iowa,” he said.

Now Anaman runs his own limousine company in Iowa City, Anaman Concierge Services.

"When we have a blend of cultures, it makes things wonderful,” he said. “I've come to realize that."

He's just the type of person Iowa businesses say they need.

"Many of our businesses are poised for growth, are poised for expansion, and the biggest inhibitor to that right now is workforce,” said Doug Neumann, executive director of the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance.

That’s the problem in Iowa: There are more jobs than people.

So business leaders from across the state have signed the Iowa Compact on Immigration, a set of principles for what they call smart immigration reform.

The compact, which was presented to the public Monday, features six main principles: federal responsibility, strengthening our economy and workforce, a common-sense approach, effective enforcement, family and competitive communities.

"I think the words that attracted us to it were 'fair and common-sense immigration reform,'" said Scott Stimart, who signed the compact on behalf of Genova Technologies, a software engineering company for which Stimart serves as president and general manager.

He hopes immigration reform will help solve a workforce shortage that has only gotten worse in the last few years.

"When we had an opening [in the past], we had 15 really good candidates,” Stimart said. “When you have an opening now, you work really hard to find good candidates, one good candidate."

About a dozen of Genova's 75 employees are immigrants, but the company said taking on immigrant employees means extra paperwork and cost.

"As you're going through and trying to get the proper sponsorship and visa support and status for our employees, if you don't, they can be denied, and then, they're looking at having to leave or not get their work authorization extended,” Genova Financial Controller Peg Moses said.

While those extra steps are worth it, Stimart said he hopes immigration reform can make that easier.

"We have more jobs in this state than we produce graduates for,” he said. “So even if we kept all our graduates, we'd still be looking for people, so we obviously need to bring people in."

For Anaman, encouraging more immigrants to come and work in Iowa will do more than just help the state’s economy.

"It's a great place, and I want people to come and experience what I am talking about because indeed, it is that wonderful place,” he said.

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