Why Immigrants Are Good for Colorado’s Economy and Soul
Immigrants are crucial to many of the state’s industries
If you live near Denver, there’s a good chance you’ve visited the Village at the Peaks shopping center in Longmont. Maybe you’ve seen a movie at the Regal, sampled the salad bar at Whole Foods, bought some clothes and electronics at Sam’s or picked up dog treats at Chuck & Don’s Pet Food and Supplies.
My partner and I developed the 442,000-square-foot Village at the Peaks in 2017. With the city of Longmont, we created hundreds of jobs, invested almost $100 million, helped more than 30 businesses open stores and raised property and sales taxes, which helps provide significant resources to the community.
Over the last 10 years we have bought, developed or managed more than a dozen other shopping centers across Colorado, and I’m proud of the gathering place and workplace they've become for the community. People come to enjoy a relaxing outing with their families while buying the goods and services they need. These centers are truly part of the community fabric (despite what you hear about the “demise of retail”).
We welcome shoppers and entrepreneurs of all stripes, and that includes immigrants who run businesses and create jobs, raise their families and contribute to the American dream. Many of those who help build our stores and centers are industrious and dedicated immigrants who frame our buildings, install electrical wire or plumbing pipes and landscape our beautiful grounds. They support the operations of the centers, open stores, sell food and bring new energy to our shopping environments. And, foreign-born workers play a critical role in the state’s recent building boom: they account for 39% of all construction jobs in Colorado.
Immigrants are crucial to this industry and are also needed to fill jobs in understaffed fields like healthcare, science, engineering and technology. So, I disagree with the political rhetoric that denigrates them and by policies that restrict their ability to contribute to our economy.
There is a new motion in place to change this: the reaffirmation of the Colorado Compact, which declares support for national policies that would strengthen state and local economies and fix our broken immigration system. Nearly 120 business and civic leaders from across the political spectrum have already signed on. The compact calls for common-sense approaches to welcoming workers through an effective legal immigration system, protecting our borders and recognizing the positive impact immigrants make in Colorado as workers, taxpayers and consumers. This isn’t “open-borders.” It is an opportunity to continue to refresh and bring new talent and services to our country while ensuring that we know who enters and what they contribute.
Nearly 550,000 immigrants – or 10% of the state population – call Colorado home. They pay nearly $4.2 billion in local, state and federal taxes and hold nearly $13 billion in spending power, according to research by New American Economy. They also fuel economic growth: more than 38,000 immigrant entrepreneurs have created more than 102,000 jobs across the state.
Immigrants make our country great because they arrive here eager to make their mark and expect little in return. I witnessed that incredible work ethic in my Polish and Russian grandparents who came to the United States fleeing oppression before the Second World War. One grandfather ran a tailor shop, where my grandmother worked as a seamstress, and my other grandfather was a construction laborer for returning veterans in Los Angeles. I grew up in a diverse Los Angeles neighborhood where I saw how each immigrant and minority group – Mexican, African-American and Cuban – made important contributions to the American economy and culture.
I believe this can-do mentality reflects the frontier spirit of Colorado, where people converged from big cities across the United States to live simply by old-style American values, raise their families and appreciate the beautiful outdoors. By finding common ground, we can restore our humanity and enjoy prosperity for generations to come.
Sandy Sigal is the founder, president and CEO of NewMark Merrill Companies, Inc. and owner, developer and manager of over 80 shopping centers in three states.