Creating a Welcoming and Inclusive Environment for New Americans in Kent County
(Grand Rapids, Michigan – September 18, 2020) – Today, the Gateways for Growth Grand Rapids/Kent County Steering Committee, comprised of representatives from the City of Grand Rapids, Kent County, West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce and Samaritas, debuted the Welcome Plan for Kent County.
The City of Grand Rapids is one of 13 communities across America that received a Gateways for Growth (G4G) award to be more welcoming to both immigrants and refugees. G4G is a national initiative focused on helping communities develop multi-sector plans to be more welcoming to immigrants and refugees. The top five countries of origin for immigrants living in Kent County are Mexico, Guatemala, Vietnam, Bosnia and Canada.
“This comprehensive welcoming plan is a result of months of dedicated planning, community outreach and multi-sector collaboration,” said Mo Kantner, director of state and local initiatives at New American Economy, and Molly Hilligoss, midwestern regional manager at Welcoming America. “Through two rounds of our Gateways for Growth program, we have had the pleasure of supporting and learning from the Grand Rapids community. We are excited about the tangible recommendations of this plan and we look forward to seeing the community work together to ensure all residents are welcome and have pathways to success.”
The Gateways for Growth Steering Committee is comprised of:
- Patti Caudill, diversity and inclusion manager, City of Grand Rapids
- Omar Cuevas, vice president of sales and marketing, Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce
- Guillermo Cisneros, executive director, West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce
- Elvira Kovachevich, Welcome Plan project coordinator, Samaritas
- Lori Latham, communications and government relations director, Kent County
- Joel Lautenbach, executive director of development, Samaritas
- Stacy Stout, director of equity and engagement, City of Grand Rapids
Stacy Stout, director of equity and engagement, City of Grand Rapids
“We know this Welcome Plan is just the beginning. It focuses on local efforts. However, there is much to do at the state and federal levels to advocate change and equitable inclusion of New Americans and other communities who face systemic racism and oppression. We encourage you to leverage your influence to make change locally and at the state and federal levels and call on the community to explore what recommendations you as an individual or organization can impact.”
Omar Cuevas, vice president of sales & marketing, Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce
“We know there is much to be done. One thing I am reminded of when I think of Grand Rapids and Kent County is that we know how to roll up our sleeves and get to work,” said Omar Cuevas, Vice President of Sales and Marketing at the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce. “Immigrants are our neighbors, our friends, our customers, and our coworkers. They are – we are – New Americans.”
Guillermo Cisneros, executive director, West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce
“In 2018, there were 2,031 immigrant entrepreneurs in Kent County. I’m certain this number has only grown since then. Our immigrant entrepreneurs and business owners have faced and overcome many challenges and systemic barriers. I am always proud and energized by their resiliency but can’t help feeling like we have fallen short to their needs when I listen to the struggles their journeys contain. However, this plan gives me hope that change is coming for our immigrant community.”
Joel Lautenbach, executive director of development, Samaritas
“The 2018 Report on the Economic Contributions of New Americans in Kent County highlights the importance of immigrants and refugees as a growing percentage of the population, as well as the outsized role they play in the workforce, especially in key industries like agriculture, manufacturing, and hospitality or tourism. We saw significant contributions to the tax base, incredible spending power, and impressive entrepreneurship. But we also know simply living somewhere does not mean you belong.”
About Gateways for Growth Grand Rapids/Kent County
The Kent County Welcome Plan is the result of a national Gateways for Growth strategic planning award, helping local communities develop multi-sector plans to create a more welcoming and inclusive environment for immigrants and refugees. Our planning process was led by a steering team with representatives from the City of Grand Rapids, Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Kent County, and Samaritas, along with a task force of 36 organizations from across the community. Participatory in design and implementation, Welcome Plans reflect the voice of New Americans and provide a measurable framework for our community to work on. Not one entity is responsible for carrying out the entire plan, rather it requires all of us to find our place in the plan and collaborate to carry it out. Ultimately, as our region becomes even more welcoming it will become even more successful for us all.
About the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce
The West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is dedicated to working with all members of the community to increase the economic advancement of Hispanic owned businesses and to assist the professional growth of Hispanic business leaders in West Michigan. For more information, please visit www.hccwm.org.
About the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce
The Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce leads the business community in creating a dynamic, top-of-mind West Michigan region. Together with over 2,500 member businesses (80% of which are small businesses with fewer than 50 employees), we work to expand the influence, access, and information required to actively encourage entrepreneurial growth and community leadership. We offer the connections, resources, and insights needed to develop strong leaders, engage a diverse workforce, foster an inclusive and welcoming community, and advance a vibrant business environment that nurtures economic prosperity for all. Learn more at www.grandrapids.org.
About The City of Grand Rapids
The City of Grand Rapids provides a full range of services to residents, students and visitors. Grand Rapids is a diverse and culturally rich community of nearly 200,000 residents located along the banks of the Grand River, 30 miles east of Lake Michigan. It is the second-largest city in Michigan and serves as the county seat of Kent County and the economic engine for the western part of the state. Grand Rapids has been recognized nationally for its quality of life and named one of the 25 best places to live in the U.S. It also has been touted among the best cities to start a career, raise a family and retire, among others. Stay connected with City news, events and information at grandrapidsmi.us, facebook.com/CityofGrandRapids , twitter.com/CityGrandRapids and instagram.com/citygrandrapids.
About Kent County
The County of Kent government serves a diverse population of more than 650,000 residents, making it the fourth largest county in Michigan. The County provides a wide range of essential services in the following areas: law enforcement, correctional facility, three court systems, elections, social services, public health, park system and vital records. Additionally, it has operating agreements for the maintenance of County drains, solid waste and road, mental health services, and with the Gerald R. Ford International Airport and John Ball Zoo. To learn more about Kent County services, visit www.accesskent.com.
Samaritas, one of the state’s largest faith-based nonprofits, has been sending ripples of positive change into Michigan communities since 1934. Samaritas serves people of all ages and backgrounds including providing resettlement services for New Americans, adoption and foster care, and at-home services, and residential communities for seniors and persons with disabilities, through assisted living, skilled nursing and memory care. Affordable living residential communities also are available for independent seniors, families and persons with disabilities.