That’s “hello” in Somali, Bosnian, Swahili, Vietnamese and Spanish — five of the most common languages spoken by the region’s foreign-born residents.
In all, 17 ways to say hello will be featured on posters found on Metro buses and trains beginning today as they make their way through the region. The posters are part of an effort to attract more immigrants and part of Welcoming Week, a nationwide event to highlight the contributions of the foreign-born population.
“While the St. Louis region is the 19th-largest in the country, it ranks 43rd in terms of the number of foreign born,” said Betsy Cohen, director of St. Louis Mosaic Project. She said the other metropolitan areas that rank in the Top 20 have an average foreign born population of 20 percent, while St. Louis comes in at just under 5 percent. Cohen said that of the region’s 2.8 million people, 126,000 are foreign born.
The Mosaic Project was formed last year to retain and attract more immigrants. One way to do so is create a welcoming environment, Cohen said.
“Our foreign born population is 60 percent more likely to start a business than our native born population,” Cohen said. More business means economic growth for everyone, she said.
The International Institute of St. Louis assisted with the language translations for the posters.
“We also recommended the use of the word ‘hello,’ which is pretty universal,” said Anna Crosslin, president and CEO of the International Institute.
There has been a push by St. Louis area business leaders the past few years to attract immigrants, arguing that doing so will improve the region’s economy.
A study released last week backs that up.
A Duke University economist used Census data to put together the study, showing that immigration over the last 30 years has helped bolster home values and retain manufacturing jobs. The more immigrants a city has, the better it fares in both instances, the study argues.
With manufacturing jobs, there is a larger pool of potential workers with a wider variety of skills. And with more immigrants, home values are boosted because there is greater demand. That demand helps stabilize prices in lower-income neighborhoods that typically see population losses as home values plummet.
The study was funded, in part, by the Partnership for a New American Economy, a pro-immigration group launched by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
As the battle over immigration reform continues in Washington, communities across the country have put together a weeklong schedule of events highlighting the value of immigrants. In St. Louis, the events culminate on Friday with a naturalization ceremony at the Thomas F. Eagleton Courthouse downtown, where 60 people are to be sworn in as U.S. citizens.
A complete list of activities can be found at www.welcomingamerica.org.
“The St. Louis Mosaic Project goal is that by 2020, we have the most growth of immigrants of any major metro area,” Cohen said.
Local political leaders are on board with that goal.
St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay said the efforts are necessary “so our regional enterprises can compete effectively in the widening global market.”
Added St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley: “We want to be more diverse and see things from different points of view.”