Recent News Articles: St. Louis gets a point person on effort to boost immigration

3-26-13 St. Louis Business Journal
by Amir Kurtovic

Over the last year there has been a lot of talk about boosting immigration to St. Louis in an effort to attract new talent and new blood to an area with an aging and shrinking population.

St. Louis officials yesterday put a face on that effort when they announced that Betsey Cohen, a former Nestle Purina executive, has been named the first project director of the regional immigration and innovation initiative.

This initiative is a collaboration led by the area’s economic devlopment agencies — the St. Louis County Economic Council, the St. Louis Development Corp. and the St. Louis Regional Chamber –and Cohen will work within the county’s Economic Council, in theWorld Trade Center-St. Louis office.

The hiring of a full-time staff person to manage the effort to boost immigration follows months of work by a committee of local advocates, including Anna Crosslin, president and CEO of the International Institute, and Jack Strauss, a Saint Louis Universityeconomics professors who authored a 2012 study on the subject.

Strauss’ study found that the relative lack of immigration in St. Louis, compared with other major metropolitan regions, had negative effects on economic and income growth. Among other findings, Strauss wrote that other major metropolitan areas had four to five times the number of foreign-born residents and have averaged 40 percent faster economic growth over the past decade.

After the study was published in June, a 20 member steering committee was formed to come up with and build support for local recommendations to increase immigration.

“Betsy is great at bringing people together to work toward a common goal, which makes her an outstanding choice to move the agenda of St. Louis’ Immigration & Innovation Initiative forward,” said Crosslin, who is on the steering committee, in a statement. “I am personally and professionally delighted she is joining our team.”

I spoke with Cohen briefly yesterday (seven minutes into her first day on the job), and she said she looked forward to working with all of the local entities as the region formulates a plan to attract new people. There are a number of task forces, committees and organization who have been working on this issue, and now it will be up to her to coordinate that effort and synthesize the information and proposal.

“Right now I’m really in a reading and listening mode to learn what needs to be done,” Cohen said.

By the time I reached her on Monday morning, Cohen did not yet know her email address but had already found the coffee maker. If the complexity of the national immigration debate is any indicator, she’ll need plenty of coffee in the coming months.

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