"Heather Clements:  And I really think the best way locally is to embrace this population and incorporate this fascinating culture into the overall culture and interspond [?] everybody.  I really think it adds diversity to a community and makes Jonesboro a cool place to be.

"Sherece West, WRF CEO: Absolutely! And what we find with immigrant populations as with the United States history your entrepreneurs, your innovators, hard working, striving for their families to thrive and do well like any other family and being a welcoming community bodes well in the future as well because much of the population of Arkansas and the South in general will be dependent upon this growing population. Many of us that are native born are aging, getting older. This is actually the newer more vibrant population that is coming."


Sounds like there just might be just a little bias here - and no concern whatsoever about obeying the laws of the land. 


Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation CEO Interview with Jonesboro Grant Coordinator


Heather Clements, Jonesboro grant coordinator interview in June,  2013,  with Sherece West , President and CEO  of the Arkansas-based Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation (WRF)  on Rockefeller's immigration study.  The interview can be seen on You Tube at this link:



Heather Clements:  Hello, I am Heather Clements.  I am with the Grants and Community Development Department.  And I wanted to welcome you to Channel 24 today.  I have a very special guest, and I want to welcome her. 


Sherece West, WRF CEO: Hello


Heather Clements: Dr. Sherece West  with Wintrop Rockefeller Foundation (WRF)


Sherece West, WRF CEO: Correct


Heather Clements:  Please introduce yourself to us and tell us what Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation does and what you do for them.


Sherece West, WRF CEO: Absolutely.  My name is Sherece West.  I am president and CEO of the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation.  We are headquartered in Little Rock, Arkansas, but we do our grant making throughout the entire state of Arkansas. We do grant making in three interrelated areas: education, economic development, economic racial and social justiceOur mission is to improve the lives of all Arkansans.  We have been around for close to 38 years and in that 38 year history we have done over $140 million in grant making throughout the state of Arkansas, including here in Jonesboro.  We are actually currently funding the North Jonesboro Neighborhood Initiative.


Heather Clements:  Yes


Sherece West, WRF CEO:We also do grant making at ASU around marginalized males and encouraging males to graduate.  They do that here at ASU and in their Blytheville campus, and we also fund City Youth Ministries.


Heather Clements:  Wonderful.  Well I can speak for the Grants and Community Development Department.  We really thank Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation for their funding for our North Jonesboro Neighborhood Initiative.


Sherece West, WRF CEO.  We thank you for the work that you guys do there as well.


Heather Clements:  Thank you. We are very excited.  So you are here today.  You came from Little Rock to talk to ASU about a study that was recently published that Rockefeller funded.  Can you tell us about that study and what it was and what the data said.


Sherece West, WRF CEO: Absolutely.  So we funded a profile of immigrants in Arkansas.  It is a three volume study that is available on our website at wrfoundtion.org.  The three volumes - Volume I is on demographics.  It is a profile of immigrants demographically here in the state of Arkansas.  Volume II is about the economic benefits that immigrants have in Arkansas, and Volume III is on Marshall Islanders.  We have the 2nd largest Marshallese population in the United States.  Hawaii is first.  Arkansas is second. And so we wanted to do a specific profile to educate Arkansans about Marshall Islanders here in our state. And we did the study in 2007 and we repeated it; and the 2007 study used 2000 Census Data.  The 2013 study, the updated profile uses 2010 Census Data.


What we found is that immigrants are having a positive net economic and social benefit to the state of Arkansas.  They are a small but growing population here in Arkansas and contributing positively to Arkansas economy and to our social fabric.


Heather Clements:   That's really interesting and the implications are, I am sure, are just huge not only for all of Arkansas but even locally.  Can you tell us a little bit about those implications?


Sherece West, WRF CEO: Sure, so I will talk about Arkansas generally and then hone in on any questions you want to ask about Jonesboro specifically.


Heather Clements:  Okay.


Sherece West, WRF CEO: Generally, immigrants compose five percent  of all of Arkansas's population - just five percent.  We did the study because we wanted to provide facts on what is often a very emotional or perception driven conversation.


Heather Clements: Right


Sherece West, WRF CEO: So the fact is that again according to the 2010 Census Data, immigrants make up five percent of all of Arkansas's population.  We are the 4th fastest growing state with immigrants in the United States.


Heather Clements:  Wow!


Sherece West, WRF CEO: We were number two some years ago but we are actually fourth now in the nation. The national average is 13 percent, and Arkansas is just five percent.  We say it is a growing population because the workforce of immigrants have doubled from 2% to 4% in ten years.  It is also fast growing because of their economic contribution of our state.


So let me tell you a bit about the profile and then I will tell you about the economic benefits and then we can converse a bit more about what some of those implications are.


So generally we find that two-thirds of that five percent that I talked about - two-thirds of that five percent are Latino.  The other one-third are from other countries around and across the globe. So in Arkansas we have primarily Latino conversation when we talk about immigrants just because they make up such a huge percentage (two-thirds of that 5% that I just spoke about.)  Within that two-thirds we are finding that they are home owners; that they have been here ten years or more on average; that Latino men have the highest employment rate than any other demographic, even African Americans and whites here in the state of Arkansas.  So they are highly employed.


Heather Clements:  Wow.


Sherece West, WRF CEO: We are also finding that they are concentrated mainly in Washington, Benton, and Sebastain counties - about 44 percent.  Seventeen percent in central Arkansas, and then the other 39 percent are dispersed in rural communities throughout the state.  However, the Jonesboro Metropolitan area ranks about third or fourth in our state in terms of population. And when we spoke this morning, the Mayor said there was over  200 percent increase in the number of Latinos in this community since the 2000 census. So it's pretty significant.  So that is the demographics.


The demographics that they are pretty much long term residents.  Also as long term residents, their kids are actually US citizens.  Their working age of folks who are immigrants, and being working age also means they are child bearing age; and so many of them are having children, and those children are US citizens even though their parents are foreign born.  That is important because when I talk about costs next, that becomes an important part on how we factor in education costs.


Heather Clements: Umhuh.


Sherece West, WRF CEO: So in terms of economic development oftentimes the conversation is about the costs that immigrants are to the United States and to Arkansas specifically.


Heather Clements:  Right


Sherece West, WRF CEO: Now keep in mind that I said this is 5% of our population.  What we found is that in terms of taxes that are being paid through buying goods and services and paying sales tax through high employment as I mentioned 88% of Latino males are employed which means that they are contributing to taxes through being employed.  I also mentioned that 50% of Latinos in particular immigrants are home owners, of that two-thirds are home owners; so already you have property tax.  Even if you are renting, you are paying property tax through a pastorate [not sure pastorate is the right word here]


So when you are buying goods and services and the like, you are paying taxes and contributing so we found that paying through goods and services and paying taxes they contribute about $3.9 billion dollars to Arkansas's economy.  There is a cost.  That cost is defined as education ( again keeping in mind that many of these while their parents are foreign born, we are talking educating US citizens, Arkansans,) justice system, and health are the three primary factors that we looked at in terms of essential services and costs.  We found that number to be $555 million dollars.  When you subtract $555 million from $3.9 billion, that leaves $3.4 billion in net economic benefit to Arkansas.  So for every one dollar that is spent by state and local government on immigrants, there is actually a $7.00 return to the state of Arkansas.


Heather Clements:   Right.


Sherece West, WRF CEO: So having immigrants in our state is a net positive economic benefit so that is what our study found.


Heather Clements:  That's wonderful especially in terms of economic benefits because we all have a cost.  I know there is an emotional debate across the country about immigration right now, but immigrants are not the only people of the United States that have a costs.  We all have a cost.


Sherece West, WRF CEO: Even we don't pay for ourselves in terms of how much we consume around education, basic goods and services, healthcare and the like, we don't pay for ourselves.


Heather Clements:  That's really interesting in terms of the economic benefits.  I am sure everyone can appreciate the return on an investment,


Sherece West, WRF CEO: Correct. 


Heather Clements:  And they can understand that; if not anything else, they can understand that. In terms of local implications, I know that you are aware of the Hispanic Services Center here in Jonesboro.  The executive director, Gina Gomez, we partner with them a lot as the city of Jonesboro especially with the community development office, did you get a chance to tour the Hispanic Services Center and have a conversation with Ms. Gomez about this data?


Sherece West, WRF CEO: Yes,  So Ms. Gomez has been a wonderful host to us while we have been here.  She's talked to us one on one about the Latinos that she works with, and she talked about them being from Argentina, Colombia, Equador, Mexico. Again the other misnomers that you know this influx of Mexicans or Mexican Americans - Latino really is Latin American so it is quite a few countries, not just Mexico.


Heather Clements:   Right, Exactly.


Sherece West, WRF CEO: So she talked to us about that and the excellent work that they are doing at the Hispanic center in terms of working with youth, serving youth, even the importance of having Latinos have a community and a center that they feel comfortable going to, to talk about things such as pathway to citizenship, what they are experiencing  with employment in the area; how to get services to their kids; how to ensure especially the young people.  There is this real passion about ensuring that the young people of the next generation have access and opportunity to all that Jonesboro has to offer. In addition to English language learners and being translators and helping people whenever they run into challenges at school or at the court system or just here at city hall, so yes. she talked to us about the range of services they provide there and it seems to be an important organization for this area. She also talked with us that she has participated in the Latino Leadership Academy that the Foundation also funds and the purpose of that was because she is a new CEO or ED in the area, they come to these leadership positions, like many of us,  not knowing how to raise money, how to put together a board, what the laws are around 501C-3; how to build leadership capacity and so again because this is a burgeoning community here in our state the foundation felt it was important that these nonprofit leaders have access and opportunity to leadership development and learning so she is actually a graduate of the Academy as well so we are pretty pleased to have her be a graduate of that Academy.


Heather Clements:  That's wonderful. The Hispanic Services Center truly is an asset for this community and for this population for sure.  And you mentioned earlier the pathway of citizenship.  I know again that is a hot topic of discussion right now and you said that five percent of immigrants are Latino in the state of Arkansas?


Sherece West, WRF CEO: Five percent of all immigrants so that means Asian immigrants, Eastern European immigrants, African immigrants, so it is five percent and of the five percent, two-thirds are Latino.


Heather Clements:  Okay, and what percentage of those immigrants, the 5% are actually documented.


Sherece West, WRF CEO: Of the five percent, two percent are undocumented but again it is important to recognize there is a path to citizenship and in terms of public policy with the foundation is talking about public policy, it is for Arkansas to be thoughtful and intentional about how we create pathways to citizenship as a state so that it is a myth or misnomer that we have so many folks here illegally, that is just not the truth. And even with those who are undocumented there is some form of obtaining documentation or in some form of a pathway to citizenship.  And it takes a long time.  The average citizen does not realize  the amount of time it takes, and it is expensive; and when you multiply that by many people in your family you can speak of upwards of a couple of thousand dollars to pay for that process.  It includes legal services; it includes fees for the documenta and many other things you have to do on that pathway.


Heather Clements:  I just wanted you to mention that briefly because I do think there is this notion that it is an easy process, and that is just not the case.  It is not an easy process.


Sherece West, WRF CEO: It is not an easy process and it is not safe to assume that the newcomers to our state aren't on in some way on that path of citizenship. So many who are encouraged to come are here on work visas or they come as students; there are student visas; on seeking political asylum;  there are different statuses and methodologies, and processes.  There really are four main ones, and I don't want to get complicated in describing it.  I just want it to be noted as you are pointing out that the assumption shouldn't be their illegal status because many are here legally.  The challenge is where they are on their pathway to citizenship, if citizenship is what they are seeking.


Heather Clements:  And I really think the best way locally is to embrace this population and incorporate this fascinating culture into the overall culture and interspond everybody.  I really think it adds diversity to a community and makes Jonesboro a cool place to be.


Sherece West, WRF CEO: Absolutely and what we find with immigrant populations as with the United States history your entrepreneurs, your innovators,


Heather Clements: Right


Sherece West, WRF CEO: hard working, striving for their families to thrive and do well like any other family and being a welcoming community bodes well in the future as well because much of the population of Arkansas and the South in general will be dependent upon this growing population. Many of us that are native born are aging, getting older.


Heather Clements:  Right


Sherece West, WRF CEO: This is actually the newer more vibrant population that is coming and again as I mentioned their kids are now in elementary and middle school so that in another five to ten years they actually will be the new residents of Jonesboro, not just of Jonesboro but of Jonesboro and the state of Arkansas. So yes, being accessible, being open, working even in building relationships; it is important that we understand one another; that we embrace the different cultures as opposed to reject, make fun of, isolate or essentially segregate.  There is much to be done on both sides to ensure that Jonesboro is a beautiful place to live, not just segments of Jonesboro.


Heather Clements:  I heard on the radio this morning  on the way to work that Iceland is the number one country for being welcoming. It was  voted number one by the entire world of places to visit because they are so welcoming; and I thought to myself how cool it would that be for Jonesboro to be number one in welcoming cities.  Maybe this is where this could start.


Sherece West, WRF CEO: Absolutely.


Heather Clements:  Very interesting data.  I love this.  I am a data nerd at heart and I just love hearing all about this.  I hope you will come back and talk to us again sometime.  Thank you so much for what you do.


Sherece West, WRF CEO: It's a pleasure.


Posted by Iris Stevens July 9, 2013