From Denver South Economic Development Partnership President and CEO Mike Fitzgerald
Colorado has an unusually fast-paced economy. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, our state’s economy has recently been growing consistently at about twice the rate of the rest of the nation[1][2]. That’s great news for us in the Denver South economic region — but it means we face some unusual challenges too, like making sure that our employment pipeline is full. Because the different sectors of the economy are so tightly linked, workforce shortages in one field could lead to problems all across the economic chain.
Fortunately, Colorado benefits from the presence of a big immigrant population. Most immigrants come to the United States to work, which means that while a large share of Americans are aging into retirement, many immigrants are ready to enter the workforce. Compared with the native-born population, foreign-born Coloradans are 40 percent more likely to be of working age.[3] And they are able to fill vital roles throughout Colorado’s economy.
It’s true that immigrants are major contributors to some of the sectors you might think of first. Colorado’s agricultural sector depends on immigration to supply about 20 percent of its workforce, as does construction. But immigrants are also critical to our growing advanced-technology sector. More than 19,000 immigrants work in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields and foreigners make up over 20 percent of the students in STEM-related Ph.D. programs in our state. Yet our farmers don’t have a functional guest worker program to get the labor they need and for many of those talented Ph.D. students, there is no clear path to stay after graduation. We need an immigration system that helps our economy grow, not one that sends people home after they’ve trained at our universities and fails to provide the workforce that our industries need.
In addition to filling workforce needs, Colorado’s immigrants are big economic contributors as well. Immigrant-led households earned more than $14 billion in 2014. And immigrant-owned businesses generated more than $566 million in business income and employed more than 83,700 people that same year. Foreign-born Coloradoans also pay a lot in taxes – more than one in every $12 paid in state and local taxes in 2014 alone.
So while immigration reform is a moral imperative for many, it is an economic necessity for all. For decades we have failed to overhaul an immigration system that has not evolved with a changing global economy. America’s needs have shifted and we need immigration laws that match the economic realities of 2016. We need deliberate, thoughtful policies that address the whole spectrum of immigration issues — from ensuring that our businesses can attract and retain the talent they need to grow to providing our farmers the workforce they need to put food on our tables.
 
For these reasons, I’m joining leaders in Colorado, and across the country, in a national day of action kicking off the Reason for Reform Campaign with the Partnership for a New American Economy. We should embrace the moment, and I encourage you to join me and take action at reasonforreform.org.
 
[1]     Bureau of Economic Analysis; June 14, 2016: “In 2014, Colorado real GDP grew 4.1 percent; the 2013-2014 national change was 2.2 percent.” http://www.bea.gov/regional/bearfacts/pdf.cfm?fips=08000&areatype=STATE&geotype=3
[2]     Bureau of Economic Analysis; June 14, 2016: http://www.bea.gov/newsreleases/regional/gdp_state/2016/pdf/qgsp0616.pdf
[3]     “Foreign-born share 25-64: 73.3%; Native-born share 25-64: 52.1%”. Therefore, 73.3/52.1 = 1.40, or 40% greater representation in that age bracket among the foreign-born.