Suburban immigrants 'bullish' on Philadelphia, report says

Amanda Bergson-Shilcock, principal author of the new report, which surveyed more than 350 immigrant newcomers to Philadelphia.
Amanda Bergson-Shilcock, principal author of the new report, which surveyed more than 350 immigrant newcomers to Philadelphia. (RON TARVER / Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 20, 2014

Immigrants in the suburbs appear "less skeptical of Philadelphia's assets" than their native-born neighbors, a new report on the region's foreign-born finds.

These immigrants are "more bullish on the city than might be expected," given that they reside outside it, said Amanda Bergson-Shilcock, a principal author of "Choosing Philadelphia: Attracting and Retaining Immigrant Newcomers," released Wednesday by the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians.

The Philadelphia-based nonprofit, founded in 2003, is rooted in the belief that a steady influx of immigrants can do for the local economy what it has already done for the population - grow it. The center provides training and employment services for immigrants who are here legally.

At a news conference in Center City to present the report's findings, Bergson-Shilcock, the center's director of outreach and program evaluation, did not speculate on possible reasons for the bullishness. The report notes, however, its significance for the city's efforts to attract shoppers to "destination corridors."

Such corridors include a burgeoning "Little Africa" on Woodland Avenue in Southwest Philadelphia, and "El Centro de Oro," the Latino business district on Fifth Street north of Lehigh Avenue.

What draws newcomers? What makes the region "sticky" enough to keep them?

The 43-page report begins with a statistical portrait: Overall, 12 percent of city residents, and 9 percent of suburbanites, were born outside the United States.

And no matter which country they come from originally, the top three reasons for moving here are the same: social and personal ties; jobs; and university study.

The report derives from online and in-person interviews in English and Spanish with 364 people representing 74 countries. Also represented is Puerto Rico, which is a U.S. commonwealth.

Sixty-nine percent of Africans, 70 percent of Europeans, and 56 percent of Asian and Middle Eastern immigrants said the Philadelphia area was their first home in America. Among immigrants from Latin America and the Caribbean, more than half, 54 percent, lived elsewhere in the United States before moving here.

Several years ago, social scientists identified the Philadelphia area as "an emerging gateway" for new immigrants.

The Welcoming Center's report represents more food for thought.

"Warm attachment to the region follows tangible outcomes - not necessarily the reverse," its authors wrote, adding they were surprised at how often respondents answered subjective questions about how welcome they felt "with an immediate recitation of how quickly they had gotten a job."

Over time, the report notes, "immigrants become decidedly Philadelphian - for better and worse."

While some respondents spoke of rude receptions when they arrived, others spun their tales with attitude.

"People here in Philly talk to you," said one. "Sometimes not politely, but they talk."

215-854-2541 @MichaelMatza1

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