By Erica DeLeon
Two years ago as our community anticipated the influx of hundreds of workers from across the country and perhaps the globe to support our growing economy, a group of about 30 community leaders from all sectors and all sides of the rivers came together to answer the question, “Are we ready to welcome and support our new neighbors?”
While we certainly recognized we had challenges to meet, we also agreed we are a resource-rich community. We are rich in organizations that strive every day to fill gaps and meet their clients’ needs, faith-based organizations that reach into the streets to serve, businesses that focus as much on their employees as their bottom line, and genuinely caring people who want to help others in whatever way their time, talents, and treasures allow.
What we also acknowledged was that our many programs, initiatives, organizations, and resources are not always meaningfully connected. Even in that room two years ago, among a group of well-connected leaders, new partnerships were forged, and a greater awareness of our region’s resources showed attendees that the answer to our question wasn’t to add a new program, but to better-connect existing ones.
And that’s how One Siouxland was born. We serve as a connector of ideas and resources, be they nonprofit, governmental, business, educational, or otherwise, in an effort to help our community fill the gaps and expand the resources that help newcomers feel more welcome and desire to remain in Siouxland, and help long-time community members understand and embrace our changing demographics.
The work of One Siouxland is organized around five pillars that are essential in a welcoming community: Equitable Access; Civic Engagement; Connected, Safe + Healthy Communities; Education + Workforce Development; and Economic Development.
Many of the vehicles (also referred to as initiatives, programs, and partnerships) to achieve each pillar’s vision are underway. One Siouxland’s role is different for each vehicle; for some, we are leading the effort. For others, we are a convener, a funder, or a voice for those not at the table. Always, we strive to strengthen our community’s resources so that the newcomers who move here for work will stay because they were welcomed and provided the opportunity to meaningfully contribute to the economic, civic, and cultural fabric of our community.
A few of the many vehicles that are driving the implementation of the One Siouxland Strategic Plan for Welcoming & Integration are:
- Community Resource Center. One Siouxland stakeholders identified this initiative as the one that would make the greatest impact on our entire community. We envision a center that houses the social, health, and other essential needs of our residents, in addition to professional and retail services that complement the mission to welcome, support, and connect all who enter. Together with Growing Community Connections and dozens of partners, One Siouxland is developing a business plan and working with investors to make the center a reality.
- Rising Leaders Academy. Community stakeholders also prioritized the concept of a ‘pre-leadership program’ that would identify and develop individuals from underrepresented populations to grow into leaders in business, nonprofit, governmental, and other sectors. The collective expertise of Leadership Siouxland, Leadership Dakota County, NAACP Sioux City, the Sioux City Human Rights Commission, Northeast Community College, and Women Aware is shaping this program.
- Civic & Community Engagement. Most newcomers strive to engage in their new community, despite the many barriers standing against them. Whether as volunteers in their faith or cultural communities, at a local fire department, or at their children’s schools, newcomers are giving back in the ways that matter to them. At One Siouxland, we are working with our city and business leaders, educational institutions, nonprofit organizations, and newcomer leaders to develop a culture of civic and community engagement in Siouxland. The first priority is to equip organizations providing naturalization education and legal assistance with more tools to support and maximize their efforts so everyone who has a legal path to U.S. Citizenship has the resources to get there. From there, One Siouxland is partnering with grassroots organizations that provide voter registration and non-partisan education to present and explore the issues about which they will vote. And finally, we are working closely with area Complete Counts Committees to ensure Siouxland’s 2020 Census is an accurate representation of our diverse community.
- Workforce Development through Postsecondary Opportunities. Newcomers will play a significant role in filling tomorrow’s workforce needs. In Iowa, where the Future Ready Iowa goal is to reach 70% of Iowa’s workforce with education/training beyond high school by 2025, that amounts to almost 140,000 additional credentials beyond the current rate. Siouxland is rich with refugees and immigrants that are currently underemployed because of language barriers and restrictive foreign credential transferring. Connecting them to upskilling opportunities or new careers not only improves their family’s economic outlook, but also increases tax revenue to the government and potentially puts more discretionary income into the economy.
- Supporting Entrepreneurship. Studies show that immigrants and their children are more than twice as likely to start a business than U.S.-born Americans, and currently make up about 40% of the Fortune 500 companies. One Siouxland wants to help our community harness that entrepreneurial spirit by connecting entrepreneurs to mentors, information, training, financing programs, and other tools to plan, launch, and grow Siouxland’s next great company. We are thrilled to have local government engagement and support in this area, and look forward to the day when today’s new entrepreneurs become tomorrow’s success stories and mentors for a new generation.
Recently, One Siouxland was selected as one of six cities on the inaugural Looking for America tour. A collaborative effort of New American Economy, the American University School of Public Affairs, and CuriosityConnects.us, Looking for America uses art as a jumping off point for moderated conversations about the values that connect us and the issues that divide us. We are currently looking for artists of all cultures, political ideologies, faiths, nationalities, and other diverse backgrounds to be part of the art exhibition, which will open at the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center starting September 29, 2019. On that same day from 2-5pm, about 50 Siouxlanders will join us for a late lunch and what we expect to be very empowering conversations. Please reach out to Erica@OneSiouxland.org for more information about the event.