A new report highlights the growing importance of immigrants in Greater Portland’s economy.

Foreign-born residents accounted for 75 percent of the population growth in the Portland-South Portland region from 2011 to 2016, according to the report, which was prepared by the group New American Economy and released Friday.

Immigrants contributed $1.2 billion to the Portland metro area’s gross domestic product in 2016, paying $133 million in federal taxes and $62 million in state and local taxes, the report said. And immigrants in the Portland area tend to be more educated than their U.S.-born counterparts, with nearly 37 percent holding a bachelor’s degree or higher compared to 30 percent of the American-born.

Julia Trujillo, the director of Portland’s office of economic opportunity, which was established in 2016 to better integrate immigrants into the local economy and community, said she hopes the report will help people better understand the contributions of immigrants in region.

“Our low population growth is a real barrier to our potential to continue growing,” Trujillo said. “Therefore, it is important to reiterate the positive contributions that this population” makes and “that without them, Portland would be in a much more difficult place.”

Mateo Hodo and his wife, Alba Zakja, own and operate Coffee Me Up, a coffee shop at 221 Cumberland Ave.

Hodo, who emigrated to the United States from Albania in January 2017, said he and his wife created their business with a mission in mind.

“We are a husband-and-wife team who believe that a small act of love and kindness will transcend and cause a ripple effect passed on from one to another,” Hodo wrote on his website. “We believe in the human connection, positive energy, caring and sharing all the matters of the heart.”

Hodo said America and Portland gave him the opportunity to share his world view.\

“Diversity is the key to the economy,” he said in a telephone interview Sunday. “Despite all the differences we have, we are the same. People need to realize that we are all part of the human race and we live in the same world. We need to learn to share that world.”

Parivash Rohani, a member of the Baha’i religion, fled Iran in the mid-1980s to escape religious persecution. She said the government burned her home and executed friends for their religious beliefs.

Though she hoped to return to Iran one day, it did not seem safe, so she came to the United States, eventually settling in Maine in 1986. She moved to Portland three years ago, and she devotes her time to being an activist for the Education is Not a Crime cause.

In Iran, young people who are members of the Baha’i faith are barred from pursuing a higher education because of their religious beliefs. The Education is Not a Crime movement fights that injustice through creativity and art.

Rohani said the freedom to express her views without fear of persecution allows her to contribute to Portland’s culture and economy in small, but important ways.

“Now, I feel like there is no obstacle between me and my dream,” she said Sunday. “I feel like anybody and everybody can improve themselves when the freedom and opportunities exist.”

The report, produced in partnership with the city and the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce, comes at a time of increasing anti-immigrant rhetoric and enforcement actions from the White House. It was released days after Gov. Paul LePage and Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling traded shots over a proposal to extend voting rights in municipal elections to noncitizens. Proponents like the mayor argue that noncitizens pay local taxes and are affected by decisions made by the City Council and school board and should have a say in who serves.

In Maine, the cost of supporting immigrants – especially asylum seekers, who are prohibited from working for at least six months after their applications are filed – is often talked about, since many rely on General Assistance and other support until they can work. But Trujillo hopes the report helps shifts that conversation – or at least presents a more well-rounded picture of immigration’s impact here.

From 2011 to 2016, the total population in the Portland metro region grew 1.5 percent, while the immigrant population grew by 12.2 percent, the report states. The 24,277 immigrants make up 4.6 percent of the 524,052 people living in the metro region. But they account for 5.1 percent of the working age population and 6 percent of all workers in science, technology, engineering and math – or STEM – fields. And nearly 8 percent are entrepreneurs.

“The general public may not be aware of the many positive aspects of this population that are highlighted in the report. The international talent coming to Portland is young, highly educated and motivated,” Trujillo said. “Lastly, in order to sustain our growth, it is not only about retention. If we want to upkeep our growth, it is also about attraction. We need to be intentional about highlighting that Portland is a vibrant global city, where, for example, more than 55 languages are spoken in our schools.”

Quincy Hentzel, CEO of the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce, said in a prepared statement that the region’s cultural diversity is beginning to spread to businesses.

“Portland has become the confluence for so many different cultures and people, and we are starting to see that evolve in the professional landscape as well,” Hentzel said. “There’s a new energy in the business sector as more and more entrepreneurs – both new to the country and new to the market – continue to start businesses and contribute to our growing economy to the tune of adding more than a billion dollars to Portland’s GDP and contributing almost $200 million in state and federal taxes.”

Trujillo said the information will be used to create an action plan to better harness immigrant potential that will be released later this fall.

 

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