State of the County

Heather Valudes is community impact director at the Lancaster Chamber. 

76 million retirees.

Labor force growth at less than 1%, compared with 5% in the 1970s.

Average household birthrate of 1.77 children, below the 2.1 population “replacement” level.

What do these statistics have in common? They all contribute to the demand for labor being faced across the Country and here locally.

As one strategy to meet the workforce need, states are putting in the effort to attract the immigrant and refugee communities.

In Maine, the City of Portland created the Portland Office of Economic Opportunity to help integrate immigrants into the economy and connect businesses with potential employees. In Kentucky, they are making efforts to retain everyone in their state and to attract secondary migrants, which are immigrants who initially settled elsewhere.

Here in Lancaster, efforts are underway from the Lancaster Chamber, the Lancaster County Refugee & Immigrant Coalition, Church World Services, the Lancaster County Community Foundation and the City of Lancaster, among other partners, to build strategies for inclusion and integration.

In early 2019, the Chamber, in partnership New American Economy and Welcoming America, released a report entitled, “Strengthening the Workforce by Welcoming Immigrant Contributions: Facts and Strategies." It had three goals. 

—Embrace diversity as a strength and ensure Lancastrians recognize and value the contributions of immigrants in our community.

 — Maximize the potential of immigrants in our community.

— Promote economic opportunity, civic participation and social cohesion for all residents.

Throughout the plan, it highlights the economic contributions of immigrants and stories of neighbors, friends, and children of immigrants living and working in our community that help to shape the narrative of the impact of immigration on Lancaster County. But more than that, the plan gives tangible strategies for how Lancaster County businesses and organizations can position ourselves to attract the workforce we need.

By bringing employers and human resources representatives together, there will be opportunities for them to share best practices related to attracting, hiring, retaining and integrating immigrants in their workforce.

Further, there are strategies focused on providing employers with trainings and resources for cultural workplace competencies, on-site English language learning, and determining paths for helping employees reclaiming careers. And finally, there are strategies focused on discussing and addressing barriers to employment or within the workplace that will help to ensure that immigrants can play a significant role in addressing our workforce challenges.

As we continue to make the case for the importance and impact of immigrants in our workforce, it is worth noting that many discussions about immigrants in the workforce get derailed by the polarizing national debate on immigration policy.

While there are many issues to debate and work through regarding federal immigration policies, the polarization on those issue adds confusion at a time when there are already many barriers in place.

Meeting our workforce needs means we need to work hard to align our systems for workforce development, to utilize platforms that connect students to career exploration opportunities, to seek out opportunities to engage people on the sidelines of our labor force, and to welcome the talents and strengths of immigrants and refugees in our community.

• Heather Valudes is community impact director at the Lancaster Chamber.