By John L. Moore
In 2000, there were 508,291 Pennsylvania residents who were foreign-born, but by 2014 the number of Pennsylvanians born outside the United States had increased dramatically — to 821,700.
Obtained from the Migration Policy Institute, Washington, D.C., the figures show a rise of nearly 62 percent over a 14-year period.
To be sure, the number of Pennsylvanians born in the U.S. is also growing, but at a much slower rate — from 11.8 million in 2000 to slightly more than 11.9 million residents in 2014.
Although statistics weren’t immediately available, “there’s been a major increase in different ethnicities” coming to Northeast Pennsylvania, according to Teri Ooms, executive director of the Institute for Public Policy & Economic Development, Wilkes-Barre.
That’s a good things because “the more diversity we bring into the region, the better off we are,” Ooms said.
Immigrants tend to bring new ideas and new ways of doing things with them. “We’ve noticed that these various cultures are bringing unique things with them,” she said. “In my mind that makes the region more vibrant.”
For instance, “Hispanics tend to be entrepreneurial and are opening restaurants and shops,” Ooms said.
Robert Durkin, president of the Greater Scranton Chamber of Commerce, agreed that the region is attracting immigrants.
“I can’t cite numbers, but there are immigrant populations working in a number of fields,” Durkin said.
“The chamber’s work plan calls for the organization to explore ways “to connect with various constituencies,” Durkin said. He added that the chamber primarily is a business entity and “the need for this organization is to be inclusive.”
“The challenge that we find right now is to find a way for the business community to make the connection with the various minorities,” he said.
One way is by learning about other cultures. “I was just at a Congolese dinner,” Durkin said. “It was really great.”
At the policy institute, Ooms remarked that “the potential for growth in immigration is probably high.”
Everybody is aware of various pockets of Hispanics and Latinos that have spring up in Scranton, Wilkes-Barre and Hazleton in recent decades.
In the beginning, many of the Latinos came to Northeast Pennsylvania from New York City and Philadelphia. When “they found they could have a decent quality of life,” they encouraged relatives from Central and South America to join them, Ooms said. The Latinos come from a variety of countries including the Dominican Republic.
Ooms reported that NEPA has also seen the arrival of “a small number of Bhutanese” from the South Asian nation of Bhutan, sandwiched between India and China.
There are also groups of Hindus and Gujerati from India. “Many of them came after living in the New York metropolitan area for a while.” These included engineers, who relocated when logistic and distribution centers were built in the region.
There are also Russian immigrants. “That group came here directly from Russia.”
At the Scranton chamber, “We need to embrace all constituencies, and over time we have to get into those communities and see where we can help each other,” Durkin said. He noted that “assimilation takes time.”
Nationally, “documented immigrants certainly should be welcome,” he said.
“We’re a nation of immigrants,” Durkin said. “The way the Irish were treated wasn’t very appealing. … We need to take lessons from our forefathers and do better at it.”
Regarding Illegal immigrants, Durkin said, “The situation needs to be addressed,” but “you have to change these things realistically.”
Efforts to reach Wico van Genderen, president and chief executive officer of the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Commerce were unsuccessful.