Montana Public Radio

Missoula Panel Talks Economic Contributions Of Immigrants

Jul 11, 2018

Immigrant populations in Missoula are contributing hundreds of millions of dollars to the local economy each year. At a panel held in Missoula today the mayors of both Missoula and Helena talked about the economic benefits of welcoming refugees and immigrants.

In 2016 alone, immigrants contributed almost $220 million to the Missoula-area economy. That’s according to a report from the New American Economy and the International Rescue Committee* released today.

Jen Barile is the resettlement director for Missoula’s International Rescue Committee (IRC).

“While immigrants make up a relatively small part of the population, they still have serious economic clout,” she said.

Barile and the IRC held a luncheon panel today to celebrate the release of the report and to highlight the economic contributions of immigrants in the five counties surrounding Missoula. Speakers on the panel included Missoula Mayor John Engen and Helena Mayor Wilmot Collins, himself a refugee from Liberia.

Engen, who was born and raised in Missoula, spoke of the value of welcoming diversity into the community.

“Immigration in Missoula is a good thing, and that’s based on not only what you’re seeing in this report, but what I see on the ground today and what I’ve seen in my experience as somebody who has lived in Missoula my entire life,” Engen said.

Collins shared his personal story of coming to Montana after fleeing from the civil war in his home country. He said that despite all the statistics and evidence to the contrary, there are plenty of stereotypes that immigrants take more than they give back.

“It is so wrong for people to continue the rhetoric that all we’re doing is just consuming and soaking up the resources of hard working Americans,” he said.

According to the New American Economy Report, Missoula’s immigrants do give back, contributing $19 million in federal taxes annually, and $7 million in state and local taxes. That still leaves almost $100 million in spending power — money that tends to pour right back into the local economy.

Another speaker on the panel was Kathy O’Masters, vice president of the Missoula Federal Credit Union, which has partnered with the IRC to give financial literacy classes to refugees.

O’Masters told the room of nearly 100 people that the money immigrants earn often pours straight back into the local economy.

“The number one question that we get from our refugee families is, how do I get a loan for a car, and how do I buy a house. You know, they all want the American dream,” she said.

Missoula was one of just 44 communities across the country selected for the New American Economy’s economic growth study.

You can read the entire report on immigrants and the Montana economy here.

*This story has been corrected. The original post mis-identified IRC as the International Refugee Center, it's correct name is International Rescue Committee.