Opinion: Refugee resettlement has positives for business

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On Dec. 31, 2019, Gov. Mike Parson announced his consent to an initial refugee resettlement in Missouri following Executive Order 13888 signed by President Donald Trump on Sept. 26. According to Parson’s letter, to the secretary of state, the order allows states to have more involvement in the process to determine placement of properly vetted refugees.

I applaud Parson’s decision and thank him for recognizing the contributions immigrants have made historically to the state of Missouri. Parson’s letter states that nearly 18,000 refugees from 45 countries have resettled in Missouri since 2002. Locally, the International Institute of St. Louis immigration service and faith-based organizations have worked to support resettlement in our area, which has contributed to entrepreneurship opportunities, strengthened local economies and increased cultural diversity.

Prosper Springfield representatives have been able to meet with individuals and youth who have been part of the resettlements to learn more about their needs and desires. One challenge we continue to see relates to better-paying jobs. The International Institute is provided limited funding for resettlement that is used to find homes and jobs, as well as teach the English language. This means most job placements are entry-level positions, requiring minimal skills. However, many of the refugees have transferable skills and even degrees that are not always recognized in our state. Understanding the ability to speak English is critical to the workforce, one way to address these issues is to hire bilingual individuals in leadership roles, such as supervisors. The Missouri Job Center started having bilingual job fairs to address this issue.

Through a grant last year from the Darr Family Foundation, Prosper Springfield was able to engage with youth that are new to Springfield through the International Institute and share with them the types of careers that are available in the area. Several businesses made presentations to the youth about the types of classes they should take in school now to prepare for local and regional job demands. Through this effort, one of the students is in the international baccalaureate program at Central High School and another student is in the cadette program with the Springfield Police Department.

The other challenge is making sure the refugees can learn the customs and laws of Missouri but be able to maintain their culture. Last year, the Springfield CultureFest held on Commercial Street attracted over 1,000 people and showcased ethnic talents, foods and businesses. What a great way to start 2020 by engaging more with our growing racially and ethnically diverse community of over 7,500 people from around the world.

This is a great time to provide opportunities to others that can grow business with individuals who just want the opportunity to prosper.

Francine Pratt is director of Prosper Springfield, a poverty reduction initiative led by Community Partnership of the Ozarks and United Way of the Ozarks. She can be reached at fpratt@cpozarks.org.

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