A project of the Partnership for a New American Economy
Originally a home to many settlers from England, Ireland, and Germany, Ohio’s population grew rapidly in the 1950s as more and more immigrants began settling in the area. According to the 2010 American Community Survey, Ohio was home to more than 450,000 foreign born residents. Though they make up only 4 percent of the state’s total population, between 2000 to 2010, the number of immigrants in the state grew more than 31 percent, above the national average, helping to offset slow state population growth over the same period.
Size of foreign-born population
Percent of state’s population that is immigrant
Growth in foreign-born population 2000-2010
Top countries of origin
The growing influx of immigrants to Ohio in the last two decades has greatly added to the state’s diversity. Columbus, a city in the central part of the state, is currently home to an estimated 45,000 Somali refugees, one of the largest such concentrations in the country. And while other states have taken steps to pass restrictive immigration laws in the last two years, in 2011, Dayton passed the “Welcome Dayton” plan, legislation designed to reverse the city’s economic decline by making it more welcoming to immigrants and top talent from around the world.
Between 2008 and 2018, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (or STEM) fields are projected to play a key role in US economic growth, adding jobs 73 percent faster than the rest of the economy. Fixing the US immigration system to make it easier for students trained in Ohio to remain in the country after graduation will be critical: in 2009 almost half of the students earning Masters or PhD degrees in STEM from the state’s research-intensive universities were temporary residents, a group with no clear path to stay in America after collecting their diplomas. More than three in five students earning engineering PhDs in the state in recent years were also noncitizens.
Share of STEM graduates at state's most research-intensive schools who are foreign born (2009): 49.5%
Share of Engineering PhDs who were temporary residents (2006-2010): 61.4%
Foreign-born students create jobs for Ohioans and often provide the technological innovations that drive economic growth in the state. A recent study by the Partnership for a New American Economy and the American Enterprise Institute found that for every 100 foreign born graduate of a US Master’s or PhD program who stays in the United States working in a STEM field, 262 jobs are created for Americans. That translates into a large employment boost for Ohio, a state where, in 2010, one in every eight STEM workers with an advanced degree was a foreigner, a percentage that has grown in the last decade.
Immigration Reform = Economic Growth in Ohio
Reforming our immigration system will generate millions of dollars and thousands of jobs across Ohio. According to Regional Economic Models, Inc. (REMI), undocumented immigrants who enroll in a legal path to citizenship will generate more than 10,600 jobs and more than $928 million for the state by 2020. Expanding the number of both high-skilled (H-1B) visas will also have positive economic effects. REMI estimates that expansion of the H-1B program would result in more than 6,500 jobs and add more than $581 million to Gross State Product by 2014.
In Ohio, creating a path to citizenship and expanding the high-skilled visa program would add a total of more than $766 million to Gross State Product in 2014.
Immigrants have been integral in helping Ohio grow economically in recent years as the state has struggled, along with the rest of the country, to drive new business and create American jobs. 5.1 percent of businesses in Ohio are currently owned by immigrants, despite them making up just under 4 percent of the state’s population. From 2006 to 2010, those businesses brought in an average of almost $1.3 billion in business income each year, or 5.7 percent of the state total.
Share of business owners who are immigrants: 5.1%
Annual business income generated by immigrant-owned businesses: $1.3 billion
Immigrant entrepreneurs have long made significant contributions to the Ohio economy. Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble was co-founded by immigrants from England and Ireland. Eaton Corporation, a Fortune-500 manufacturer based in the state, was co-founded by Viggo Torbensen, an immigrant from Denmark, who invented the company’s first product, a gear-driven rear truck axle. Four other Fortune 500 firms based in the state—Kroger, Limited Brands, Big Lots, and Owens-Illinois—also had at least one founder who either immigrated to the United States or was the child of an immigrants. Together, these six companies employ almost 700,000 people today and bring in more than more than $213 billion in annual revenue.
Ohio is currently short of the professional workers it needs in critical STEM areas, fields that help the state’s economy remain innovative and competitive. According to the nonpartisan advocacy group Change the Equation, from 2009 to 2011 more than two STEM jobs were posted online in Ohio for every one unemployed STEM worker in the state. Ohio may also need to recruit immigrants in the coming years to answer the state’s looming shortage of medical professionals. The federal government has projected the state could be short 3,134 registered nurses by 2020, leaving 30 percent of positions in the field vacant. As recently as 2009, Ohio hospitals had vacancy rates topping 20 percent for some key positions—including occupational therapists, respiratory therapists, and medical technologists. In many other states, immigrants, including foreign born graduates of foreign medical schools, are already helping fill these labor gaps.
Nursing Shortage by 2020: 3,134
Share of nursing positions vacant by 2020: 30%
Immigrants in Ohio are also helping to create jobs in the state through seasonal and temporary work. According to the US Department of Labor, Ohio employers were granted certifications to bring in about 1,200 temporary workers under the H-2B visa program in fiscal year 2011. These visas, often used to staff places like amusement parks, hotels, or landscaping services during peak seasons, have a significant impact on job creation. One study by the Partnership for a New American Economy and the American Enterprise Institute found that for every 100 H-2B visa workers, 464 jobs are created or preserved for American born workers. In Ohio the 1,221 visas authorized in FY 2011 supported more than 5,665 American jobs.
Number of Ohio H-2B workers (FY 2011): 1,221
Jobs created: 5,665
Similarly, the more than 12,500 migrant farm workers living in Ohio in 2011 are also critical to the state’s economy. The US Department of Agriculture estimates that for every one on-farm job, more than three additional jobs are supported that could not exist otherwise, often in better-paying industries like manufacturing, packaging, and transportation.
Number of Ohio migrant farm workers (FY 2011): 12,500
Jobs created: 37,500
Temporary labor visas, however, can be costly and cumbersome to attain. Employers typically spend $2,500 for each H-2B visa they sponsor and apply to multiple federal agencies in the process. The US also currently lacks a temporary visa for farm workers that is easy—and financially feasible—for many small and medium-sized farms.
Eduardo Gonzalez, the founder and CEO of the steel company Ferragon Corporation, says his parents, who had been attorneys before fleeing Cuba in the 1960s, arrived in America and needed to start from scratch, ultimately finding new careers as Spanish literature professors. "Seeing your parents cope with unimaginable hardships," Gonzalez says, "You gain real strength from that." Gonzalez studied economics at University of Michigan, and began working in the steel industry in his mid 20s. By age 28, he used $35,000 he had saved—as well as loans from family and friends—to buy a bankrupt steel toll processor, a firm that converts raw steel into usable parts. “I’d always wanted to be an entrepreneur,” Gonzalez explains, “and after watching the owner of the steel company I worked for, I felt like I could do things better.”
Gonzalez says when he first began Ferragon in Cleveland he only had five employees—and enough cash on hand to last just three months. He took advantage of government loans, and heeded requests from his customers to build steel processing operations closer to their manufacturing plants. Today, Gonzalez runs five interrelated companies he founded, all within the steel toll processing industry. His businesses—based in Kentucky, Mississippi, Cleveland, and Detroit—employ 300 people and generate $50 million in revenue each year. And many of the jobs he created have gone to workers born in America: Gonzalez estimates 70 to 80 percent of his workforce is US-born.
Gonzalez’s companies, which mold steel into everything from car frames to sections of oil drilling platforms, have contributed to a variety of major American brands, including the thin metal door panels for the Ford F150 pickup truck. Gonzalez says that because defects are so easy to spot on surfaces like these door panels, “It’s often harder to do that job right than it is to make a luxury vehicle.”
Gonzalez has also been able to protect American jobs through the Great Recession. “I feel lucky every day to be in the steel industry,” Gonzalez says, and cites Ferragon’s ability to survive the financial crisis as one of his biggest accomplishments. Today he says the company is stronger than ever.
Immigrants are helping to grow the US economy everywhere, not just in the places—like our biggest cities—that we expect. They are helping to fill labor shortages on America’s farms, starting businesses that employ US workers, and developing the cutting-edge products that make America the world’s preeminent innovation hub.
Click on a state to learn more about the contributions immigrants are making to the local economy.