Not my parents’ Macomb County

OM blogThis week, the OneMacomb initiative, a county-initiated forum and resource for all matters relating to the enhancement of diversity and inclusion in Macomb County, released compelling new research about the incredible diversity and economic contributions immigrants bring to Macomb County.

When I was a high school student in the 1980s, the folks I ran into from Macomb County (and the reputation of the county) were white working-class folks. (Truth be told, my interactions with folks from Macomb County largely revolved around high school debate competitions with Sterling Heights Stevenson and Utica Eisenhower, often winning tournaments in which I competed.) In fact, Macomb County developed a reputation in 1980 as the home of the “Reagan Democrats.” As recently as 1990, the U.S. Census reported Macomb County as 96 percent white.

The data released by OneMacomb, obtained as part of the Gateways for Growth program from Welcoming America and the New American Economy, shatters this antiquated view of Macomb County, particularly in regard to the foreign-born. Macomb County is home to almost 90,000 immigrants, making Macomb County more internally diverse than Wayne County (Macomb is 10.4 percent foreign-born, while Wayne is only 8.4 percent. Oakland is almost at the national average and is 12.4 percent.).

Did you know with 36,610 immigrants, Sterling Heights has the second largest immigrant population of any Michigan city, trailing Detroit by only a couple of thousand immigrants? At 27.8 percent foreign-born, Sterling Heights is more than twice as foreign-born as the nation as a whole.

Other important facts undergird the tremendous economic contributions Macomb County’s immigrants make. There were nearly 5,000 self-employed immigrants whose businesses generated over $50 million in business income in 2014. These businesses represent 15 percent of all the businesses in Macomb County. Macomb County’s immigrants are highly educated; 35.1 percent possess a four-year degree or graduate degree (compared to 23.6 percent of Macomb’s U.S.-born population and slightly more than 26 percent for the state as a whole.).

Other interesting facts included in the data are most (62.3 percent) immigrants in the county have become naturalized citizens. Top countries of origin are diverse and include Iraq (24.5 percent), India (8.2 percent), Poland (6.7 percent), Philippines (4.9 percent), and Bangladesh (4.7 percent), with 51 percent of the immigrants coming from other countries not in the top five. Lastly, 38.3 percent of the immigrants who moved to Macomb County in the recent past came from outside the U.S. directly to Macomb County, 41.1 percent came from other Michigan communities, and 20.6 percent came from other U.S. states.

In short, immigrants to Macomb County have helped make the county a vibrant place. From contributing their skills to the county’s dynamic defense, automotive design, and health industries, to helping to revitalize the commercial and residential neighborhoods in older inner-ring suburbs like Warren and Sterling Heights, immigrants are an important part of the county’s fabric.

OneMacomb has developed an operating agreement for the Macomb County Diversity and Inclusion Collaborative signed by more than two dozen partner agencies, including Global Detroit, and is poised to help Macomb continue to be a place where all individuals and groups live, work and recreate harmoniously with all others and participate fully, equally and equitably in all institutions and aspects of Macomb County life.

A similar Gateways for Growth data release on immigrant contributions for the city of Detroit is scheduled for Thursday, May 4. Subscribe to Global Detroit’s email newsletters for details on that press conference.

Steve Tobocman is director of Global Detroit, a regional economic revitalization strategy mobilizing Metro Detroit’s immigrant potential.

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