Building a Global Talent Pipeline
By Chris Clark, Georgia Chamber President & CEO
Even before COVID-19 hit our borders and changed virtually every business plan and legislative priority for 2020, the war for talent was being fought across every industry sector around the world. Communities, states, and nations that want a prosperous future have prioritized issues ranging from reforming K-12 to developing innovative college programs like our NEXUS degrees; from increasing the number of high school career counselors to providing last-mile grants. Leaders are building lifelong learning programs, reskilling displaced workers, and having honest discussions about the important role of legal immigration in order to win this war.
Consider the facts. Immigrants comprise nearly 10% of the state’s population. Roughly one in five self-employed business owners in Georgia is an immigrant and, in 2019, there was an 87% growth rate among Latina-owned start-ups in the state. One in seven immigrants represent Georgia’s labor force and nearly half of them are naturalized U.S. Citizens. The immigrant population also represents close to $20-billion in spending power for the state and generates right around $7-billion in federal, state, and local taxes. Combine these stats with the fact that they hold more than one-third of the jobs in agriculture and over a quarter of the jobs in construction, it is very easy to see how critical their role is to our economic recovery, survival, and winning the war for talent. Political divisiveness has dominated this issue for years, preventing common sense solutions from being implemented. However, our state’s competitive advantage depends on our ability to shift this paradigm and leverage the strength of this significant resource in Georgia. So, how do we redirect and reform this issue? Where do we begin?
Talent – or education – is key. In 2020, the Georgia Chamber and the Georgia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce launched the Global Talent Initiative to take a deeper dive into barriers that currently exist for legal immigrants at the federal and state level. In partnering with entities around the state, through a data-driven approach, we have gained some insightful results. A recent poll revealed that two-thirds of voters support immigration reform and over 80% believe it is important to develop that reform at the state-level. These same voters deemed post-secondary education to be just as important as K-12 when it comes to improving educational outcomes and most agree that expanding access to in-state tuition for immigrants would help rural communities and positively impact earning potential. This ultimately translates into a stronger economy for all. Yet, only one-third of Georgia’s immigrants have a college-level degree or higher, and less than this have graduated from high-school, hampering the state’s ability to embrace the economic strength of its immigrant population. It is incumbent upon our state and federal leaders to consider strategic policy options that decrease the regulatory barriers, expand opportunity for legal immigrants, and maximize the potential for a more rapid recovery for our state.
Prioritizing visa applications for healthcare workers and other high-demand fields, like software developers and engineers, will allow Georgia to recruit the talent needed both now and in the future. Reforming licensure rules and regulations will open doorways for more qualified immigrants to readily engage the workforce rather than waiting on the sidelines as paperwork is processed. Increased access to higher education also offers a chance for new Georgians to build careers that translate into more prosperous communities across our state.
Immigration is an important part of our nation’s history and an essential part of our future. Voters, families, churches, and businesses all recognize its importance. Economic statistics demonstrate its value and COVID-19 has called us all to a common ground where we can look to new and innovative ways to reform, transform, and reimagine a New Georgia Economy, together.