An advocate for social innovation locally and internationally, Bolivia native Alexis Vargas manages a number of initiatives on behalf of Mayor Peduto including the City’s Welcoming Pittsburgh program. She is also a board member of Sustainable Pittsburgh. Read on for her take on how diversity and inclusion foster a more sustainable Pittsburgh.
How is Welcoming Pittsburgh, an immigrant and Latino integration strategy launched by Mayor William Peduto, aiming to contribute to a more sustainable Pittsburgh?
Sustainable efforts are community driven efforts. When conducting projects in Pittsburgh, we make sure that the community designs, implements, and evaluates initiatives that benefit families and future generations. This makes public projects sustainable and encourages the community and their families to work with their local government. We have the Welcoming Pittsburgh Advisory Committee that is composed of twenty members from business, nonprofit, and legal sectors who guide decision-making and support implementation of the initiative. This ensures that our community is at the forefront and that new generations will take the lead in implementing projects that address specific needs of our communities.
Welcoming Pittsburgh is an effort aiming to attract residents from other states and parts of the world and retain talent of current residents. The City becomes more attractive if we continue to address environmental concerns, i.e. air quality, pollution reduction, water quality and health. This is why Welcoming Pittsburgh works on bridging the gap between health and education resources in our community. If we increase access to resources, such as health and education services, healthy and educated people translate into healthy environments.
Please share one or two examples of how diversity and inclusion are central to the bottom line of any organization.
The overall success of the region depends on the success of our immigrant community. Welcoming Pittsburgh aims to provide business, employment and job creation opportunities to support our current and new residents. The benefits for the city and the region are greatest when we work toward a mutual benefit in growth.
In 2016, the New American Economy and Allegheny Conference partnered with Welcoming Pittsburgh to release research highlighting the economic contributions from our immigrant communities to the Pittsburgh region. According to this research, immigrants contributed $6.8 billion to Allegheny County’s GDP, as well as $217 million in state and local taxes. They also possess $1.8 billion in spending power. In addition, foreign-born residents are more likely to start new businesses than the U.S.-born in Allegheny County. In 2014, while only about 1 in 15 U.S.-born workers was self-employed, 1 in 10 foreign-born residents in Allegheny County was self-employed, higher than the national average of about 1 in 13.
Research also shows that immigrants play an important role in our workforce. In the fall of 2014, international students boosted the city’s economy by supporting more than 5,000 local jobs and contributing to more that $300 million in spending. They helped create and preserve thousands of jobs in the Pittsburgh region.
In addition to numbers, we could talk about a number of immigrant community members who have contributed to the development of the region through business and job creation. Dr Jashwant Sharma, who migrated from India to the U.S. in 1970 to study at the University of Pittsburgh, arrived with eight dollars in his pocket. After a few years he founded CIMA Technology in Pittsburgh, a company that manufactures and distributes ophthalmologist products for international markets. CIMA export sales went from $1.9 million in 2013 to $2.5 million in 2014. Their number of employees went from 18 in 2013 to 20 in 2014. He also built a charitable eye hospital in rural India to help the poor, with over 50,000 patient visits annually.