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More Immigrants Moving to the Center of the US, Study Finds

Jul 2, 2021

America's heartland.

More immigrants are moving to the center of the United States than in previous years, according to a new study.

The study, conducted by Heartland Forward, a think tank based in Bentonville, Arkansas, found that the immigrant population increased by nearly 8% over the past decade in what’s known as America’s “heartland,” defined as a 20-state region in the center of the country, spanning from Texas to Illinois to Alabama.

Key findings of the report include:

  • The foreign-born population of the 20-state region has increased from 23.5% in 2010 to 31% in 2019.
  • In the Northwest Arkansas metropolitan area, the immigrant population grew by 33% between 2010 and 2019.
  • Tulsa, Oklahoma saw an increase in immigrant population by nearly 26% from 2010-2019, and Kansas City’s immigrant population grew by about 21% in that time.
  • Northwest Arkansas and Des Moines, Iowa, are the homes of headquarters for some of the United States’ largest companies.
  • A large number of immigrants going to Des Moines in the last two decades were likely recruited and already had a college degree.

Population growth has been slowing in the United States, meaning that more industries and companies are looking to immigrants to fill their workforces. According to a recent New York Times report, many states’ populations would be shrinking if not for the influx of immigrants.

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Ross DeVol, president and CEO of Heartland Forward, told Axios that this study counters the current perception that immigrants tend to stay on the coasts of the United States because they feel unwelcome in the center of the country.

“This could be part of the formula for fostering stronger job creation and growth overall in heartland communities,” said DeVol.

Eldon Alik, consul general of the Marshallese Consulate in Arkansas, said in the report that the shift in immigration could be attributed to a shared Christian faith. Additionally, the Pew Research Center found in 2017 that 55% of Muslims said that Americans are friendly towards them, helping immigrants assimilate more easily to their new community.

However, while immigration to this central region of the United States is growing, rural areas are still struggling, found the report. Most immigrants are moving to big cities with better opportunities. There are some immigrants moving to rural areas for agriculture-based jobs, but the population is still declining.

Looking ahead, the study concluded that further education for mayors, business leaders, and government officials about the benefits of immigration may help diversify communities in this region. Doing so could foster better job creation and growth within the center of the country.

“As we go forward, diversity and inclusion are not optional,” Bryan Slone, president of the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said in the report. “It’s not something nice — it’s fundamental to the economic development of our state.”

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