So they invited a former Michigan state legislator, now the
executive director of Global Detroit, to lead a community
conversation on Tuesday, March 4, 2014, 3 p.m., at
Holy Trinity Greek
Cathedral, 740 N. Superior St.
“We are bringing this guest speaker in because they are doing
what we would like to do,” said Linda Alvarado, acting
director of Toledo’s Board of Community Relations. “The
‘Toledo Concept’ is sort of like a ‘Welcome Dayton’.
Other communities have one. Detroit has one.”
Like Richard Herman of Cleveland, Steve Tobocman,
another attorney, is recognized as a national expert on
immigration and economic development initiatives. Tobocman, 43,
a regional economic development strategy that looks at
immigrants and internationals as a means of revitalizing metro
Global Detroit’s efforts recently spurred Michigan Gov.
to announce an initiative to attract at least 50,000 new
immigrants to the Motor City over the next five years.
“We want to bring people together to tell us how to unfold the
whole idea of how we make Toledo a more welcoming community for
immigrants and refugees. That’s important for us to bring all
the people together, because we need to learn from them on how
to put that out there,” said Ms. Alvarado.
Michigan already is starting to see results from such efforts.
According to the US Census, while it was the only state in the
U.S. to see an overall population drop between 2000 and 2010,
of foreign-born residents actually increased. According to 2010
census figures, immigrants only made up
5.3 percent of Michigan’s foreign-born population, but
10.4 percent of all business
owners that year. Michigan also ranks
11th in the U.S. for its share of foreign-born population
with a bachelor’s degree or more.
Immigrants bring diversity
“We want to become part of this movement that is
happening everywhere else but here—bringing refugees and
immigrants here who can actually provide economic
means,” said Ms. Alvarado. “Most of them end up opening
up businesses. They’re bringing diversity.
They’re bringing foods, possibly different religions and
languages. They’re adding culture to our city that, in
one aspect, we might not have.”
Northwest Ohio soon will see an infusion of 30 Iraqi
refugees as its first group, but the city is seeking
other groups from other countries as well.
Cindy Geronimo Land Bank
City and county leaders intend to carefully market the concept
to the public to gain acceptance—especially with some of the
vitriolic political rhetoric over immigration reform that
has occurred in recent years in different parts of the country.
“We don’t want a backlash amongst our own people,” Alvarado
explained. “We’re bringing someone in to show us how to do this
community-wide. How do we get churches on board, because the
immigrants and refugees will want to go [practice their faith].
How do we bring along the educators, because many of them will
be bringing children with them. We have to bring educators to
the table and help them with diverse populations.”
“Toledo’s story is the story of immigration, whether from
Europe, the Mediterranean, Central and South America, the Middle
East, Asia or Appalachia and the South, immigrants have helped
build Toledo, its economy, culture and neighborhoods,” wrote
Lucas County Commissioner Pete Gerken in an email
invitation to community leaders.
The federal government is sponsoring the expatriation of
political refugees from other countries and helping them to
settle state-side. Toledo has an ongoing partnership with
U.S. Together. So far, three of the 30 Iraqi refugees have
been successfully placed in the metro Toledo area.
“The refugees and immigrants are only placed if there’s already
a family member here or a friend here,” explained Ms. Alvarado.
“If they don’t have one in Columbus or Cleveland or Dayton—then
that’s where they get placed. U.S. Together is a
clearinghouse for that.”
The Board of Community Relations director stated that the
agency already has an office established in Cleveland,
but plans to add one in Toledo as well. There will be a heavy
demand for “wraparound” services to help them assimilate to life
in Northwest Ohio.
“They will need to get connected to a variety of services, one
of the other reasons that we need the community involved,” said
Ms. Alvarado. “They may need day care, or schools, or they may
be going back to college. That’s all important to them. We’ve
tried to make sure that when they do come, they’re put into an
area where they’ll be able to find a grocery store that can
service their needs, where there are bilingual services
accessible for the language that they speak, or a nearby bus
The Board of Community Relations director stated the community
conversation is the first step to introducing the concept to
residents as well. She stated the desire among public officials
is for the discussion to happen “in a healthy way.”
“First of all, we all have to remember that we first came here
as immigrants,” pointed out Ms. Alvarado. “We all came here for
the same reasons as the populations currently trying to come
here—for economic reasons, for a better life. We all come
here with the dreams of a good life. We’re hoping we don’t get a
backlash on this. That’s why we’re bringing people to the table
now and unveil this to the whole community. We also want to do a
marketing campaign so this all comes out sensitively.”
“Your involvement, feedback, and advice are critical to our
efforts as we explore developing this initiative for our
community,” said Commissioner Gerken in the emailed invitation.
“Please come with questions, ideas, concerns and advice—or just
come to listen and learn.”
Ms. Alvardo explained that political refugees “already are
coming from trauma” in their native countries, many of them
nations that “are unstable in war.” She pointed out that the
refugees “are looking for safety, looking for peace, to have
something better than the place they are leaving.”
“They’re refugees for a reason. They’re not coming because they
want to take somebody’s job or because they want to take over
the city,” said Ms. Alvarado. “They’re coming because there is
no other means for them. It’s either Toledo or Chicago or New
York or Cleveland. It could be any other place. They chose
Columbus is establishing a Somalian population
In a recent era of shrinking population, the effort may
be a way for Northwest Ohio to sustain or even grow its
regional numbers. Columbus recently has had great
success with establishing a Somalian population.
Organizers advocate such efforts as economic
Likewise, St. Louis has been successful in
attracting refugees from war-torn Bosnia; as Dearborn,
Michigan has been successful in attracting
Steve Tobocman, Pete Ujvagi, Mike Breazley,
“They’ve been able to do almost a whole enclave,” said Ms.
Alvarado. “They have a whole corridor of immigrants who have
moved there. They’re getting more because now they have grocery
stores and hair places and clothing stores. They’ve been able to
almost establish a whole community. Many other cities have done
very well at it.”
The Board of Community Relations director called the Iraqi
repatriation effort a good fit for Toledo, because of its
large, well-established Middle Eastern population—both Islamic
and Christian—second in many respects only to Dearborn.
Mr. Tobocman’s efforts in metro Detroit are receiving heavy
support from the Latino community there. He once represented
southwestern Detroit in the Michigan legislature in an
immigrant-heavy district. Detroit councilwoman
Raquel Castañeda-López, the city’s first Latina
councilwoman whose district has a substantial immigrant and
Latino population, is working with other public officials to
create an office of immigration to support immigrants who move
to the city and their entrepreneurial efforts.
The IDEAL Group, a southwest Detroit-based group of eight
companies that employ 500 people, hosted a press conference last
January where Michigan’s governor announced the immigration
initiative. The IDEAL Group was founded by Frank Venegas Jr.,
the grandson of Mexican immigrants.