EDITORIAL: Pitch Indianapolis to Asian immigrants

October 12, 2013

Eli Lilly and Co., Cummins and other Indianapolis-area companies could use a little help attracting some of the immigration streaming out of Asia.

The trend isn’t widely reported, but residents of Beijing, Hong Kong, Singapore and other Asian centers in recent years have left in droves in search of better lives in the United States, outpacing even migration from Mexico and other Latin American nations.

The movement here of Latinos, who have contributed greatly to the economy and cultural fabric, has slowed with the lackluster economy and ongoing crackdown on illegal immigration. A Pew Research Center report last year said Asians accounted for 36 percent of all new immigrants—430,000 strong—in 2010.

Surveys of these new arrivals reveal a fabulous work ethic, high levels of education, a focus on strong families, and often great wealth.

But Indianapolis is largely being bypassed in favor of California tech bastions or southern metro areas. Local businesses, government bodies and not-for-profits should push hard to show these ambitious newcomers that our region is a good fit.

One of Indianapolis’ great calling cards for these immigrants is its suburbs—counterintuitive as that might sound at a time of increasing calls for density.

Demographer Joel Kotkin noted in a recent newspaper column that the number of Asians living in U.S. suburbs shot up 53 percent in the past decade while the population in urban cores rose only 28 percent. Most are looking to put crowding, smog and threats of government confiscation of their wealth behind them.

Indianapolis offers opportunity to spread their wings in spacious single-family housing and live for a fraction of the cost required in the Asian cities.

Indianapolis produces too few white-collar positions to attract a deluge of job-minded Asian immigrants.

But the area is tough to beat for starting and growing businesses. Costs are low, life is convenient, and the entrepreneurs are known for their willingness to help one another. It isn’t difficult getting a leg up here.

Indianapolis should leverage the new direct flights to San Francisco and learn from Eli Lilly, one of several Indiana companies that work hard to attract Asian workers.

Lilly officials say their main obstacle to attracting Asian prospects is that they simply don’t know about Indianapolis. That requires persuasive selling.

Once here, Lilly encourages them to become involved in internal groups that help them connect with others within the company with similar backgrounds and experiences. Lilly also helps the employees assimilate into the community, and even holds an annual Chinese New Year celebration.

Greg Ballard, easily the most internationally minded mayor the city has had, and other politicians and civic leaders should find ways to market the city to the masses flocking out of Asia—then help ensure they feel welcome once here. There is nothing but upside.•

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