Charlotte Chamber to help city immigrant effort

A city initiative to improve relations with the community’s fast-growing immigrant population is having its first high-profile event Thursday, with the staging of a “listening session” co-hosted by the Charlotte Chamber at its uptown headquarters.

The session aims to collect feedback from a broad segment of immigrants about what Charlotte is doing right and wrong in its dealings with residents from other nations. It also hopes to gather suggestions of how the city can better support immigrant entrepreneurs.

Information gathered at the session will be part of a report by Charlotte’s new Immigrant Integration Task Force, which is creating policies to help immigrants become more involved in the city’s civic and economic life. Those policies will be presented to the city council for consideration early next year.

“We know from all our demographic resources that Charlotte’s population is growing more rapidly among what is traditionally considered minority populations. And our mission is to grow the economy, so it’s very important to be welcoming of those folks,” said Natalie English of the Charlotte Chamber.

To that end, the chamber has extended invitations to representatives of nearly a dozen ethnic chambers operating in the region, including groups representing French, Swiss, German, Latin American, African, Asian and British businesses.

Charlotte even has a Mongolian Chamber, officials said.

“Even though we have different cultures and different ways of doing things, at the end of the day, it’s about the policies and procedures we need to grow businesses,” English said.

The public is invited to attend, but registration is required. The session, to be held from 2-3:30 p.m. at 330 S. Tryon St., is one of what could be a few dozen listening sessions held in the community to gather immigrant input for the task force.

Thursday’s session is being co-hosted by the Latin American Chamber of Commerce and the Black Chamber of Commerce.

Immigrant Integration Task Force members have pledged to host three sessions themselves. The first was last month at the Midwood International & Cultural Center. A second is planned for late June.

The City Council voted in November to create the task force, which includes immigrant advocates, economists and representatives of local industries, public schools and law enforcement. A member of the Charlotte Chamber, Wil Russell of Rodgers Builders, is also on the task force.

Russell says he’d like to see the Thursday listening session become something that continues, so various ethnic chambers can get together regularly to discuss their successes and challenges.

UNC Chapel Hill released a report earlier this year noting that immigrants had a $19 billion economic impact on North Carolina, based on 2010 data. Charlotte, with a 14 percent foreign-born population, ranked fourth among communities in the state with the largest percentage of immigrants.

Chamber officials say they know some aspects of the task force’s work could be considered controversial, particularly among citizens strongly opposed to an influx of undocumented people living among Charlotte’s immigrant community.

However, English points out that it’s not the first time the organization has taken on a controversial issue in the name of economic growth. The chamber’s executive committee issued an official position on immigration reform last year that states “an intelligent reasoned immigration system not only improves American businesses, but enriches culture, our diversity, and the lives of families.”