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Study: Immigrants Make Big Contributions To U.S., Kentucky Economies

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George Griffiths remembers a different Louisville. Originally from Kingston, Jamaica, Griffiths moved to the city from New York after his job transferred him 28 years ago. He’s lived in the United States since 1970.

Moving from New York to Kentucky in the late 1980s was a change. In 1990, Kentucky’s foreign born population was less than 1 percent.

“Moving to Louisville was a lot different, but now it’s more culturally diverse,” he says.

Griffiths is one of the about 160,000 immigrants who live in Kentucky. That’s about 4 percent of the state’s population. That may not seem like a lot, but immigrants contribute a huge chunk to the economy here.

Immigrants in Kentucky are almost 77 percent more likely than native Kentuckians to hold a graduate degree. Software designers and computer programmers have high representation of immigrants in the state.

That’s according to a new study by The Partnership for a New American Economy, a bipartisan group that advocates the economic benefits of immigration reform. The study also says immigrants have been important in filling jobs in Kentucky’s largest sector: manufacturing.

These high-skilled jobs are not only important to Kentucky but also to the United States. Between 2014 and 2024, STEM fields are expected to add more than three-quarters of a million new jobs in America, according to the study.

Bryan Warren was a part of a roundtable event that launched the study earlier this week. He’s director of the Office of Globalization for Louisville Metro government. Warren believes the conversation around immigration should move toward economics.

“There is an extremely positive impact that immigrants make to our community," he says. "They are the largest percentage of our population growth in the last 20 years. They provide and start businesses at double the rate that native-borns do in our community."

Adel Elmaghraby was also at the event. He’s a professor and chair of the School of Computer Engineering and Computer Science at the University of Louisville. He says most of the students at the PhD level at the school are foreign-born. And he’d like to keep some of those students in Louisville after they graduate.

“So many of them end up in California, other states and companies like Facebook, Workflow, Google, Microsoft, Apple," says Elmaghraby. "And I wish we had competition here to keep some of these talented people in Louisville.”

Roxanne Scott covers education for WFPL News.