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Forum Today: NC Immigrants Spur Economic Development

Photo: Workers at Van Wingerden International in Mills River. Courtesy Lempkes

Photo: Workers at Van Wingerden International in Mills River. Courtesy Lempkes


February 28, 2013

RALEIGH, N.C. - Bert Lemkes immigrated to Mills River from Holland more than 20 years ago; today he owns a successful horticulture business that ships plants around the world. Now a U.S. citizen, he employs hundreds of immigrant workers to harvest and care for his plants. Lemkes said without the migrant labor force, his business would have to close and dozens of Americans would lose their jobs.

"Because we have this labor in place, there's a lot of other people that have jobs," he said. "You think about managers, truck drivers, sales people, administrators, upstream and downstream."

According to research presented before Congress, there are more than three jobs created for every job on the country's farms. Today at the Immigration Matters Forum sponsored by The Center for International Understanding, 250 state policy and business leaders from across North Carolina will meet in Raleigh to talk about the economic contributions made by immigrants in the state.

North Carolina is home to several high-tech businesses that top the list nationwide when it comes to employing immigrant workers under the H-1B visa, including Duke University, Bank of America and Google. Demographer Allan Parnell says immigrants are also big contributors to Social Security.

"One of the reasons is they're young, which means they're paying into Social Security and not taking it out. There are not a lot of retired Mexicans in North Carolina. There are a lot of young Mexicans."

A representative from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce will also be speaking at the event about immigration policy on the national level. The Chamber supports changes to immigration laws to ensure sufficient numbers of visas for highly skilled workers.

Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - NC