ST. PETERSBURG — A new study singles out St. Petersburg as the top-ranked city in Florida for promoting the economic well-being of immigrants, but Mayor Rick Kriseman thinks more can be done.
Kriseman on Monday celebrated the city's No. 13 ranking nationwide, but called for additional policies to help immigrants launch businesses and encourage international students to stay and work locally after graduation.
The mayor's comments came as he released the results of a first-year study from the New American Economy that found immigrants have a "substantial impact" on St. Petersburg's economy, owning more than 2,100 businesses and paying about $550 million annually in taxes.
The study evaluated local policy and socioeconomic outcomes, such as government leadership, legal support, job opportunities and civic participation, in 100 of the nation's largest cities. The research — which was sponsored by a coalition of mayors and business leaders who support immigration reform — was designed to show how effectively cities are integrating immigrants.
With high marks for civic participation and economic prosperity, St. Petersburg scored significantly higher than Tampa, which ranked 84th.
More than 27,000 immigrants account for 11 percent of the St. Petersburg's population, according to the report. That number doubles to 54,000 immigrants living in Tampa.
According to the 2016 data, immigrants in St. Pete are more likely than U.S.-born residents to own their home, have an advanced degree, be employed and have a higher median business income. However, they have lower median individual income, and are less likely to serve in the military, have health insurance or earn a high school diploma.
"There is no denying the data," Kriseman said. "Immigrants power our economy, and we are stronger because of them."
J.P DuBuque, president of the Greater St. Petersburg Area Economic Development Corp., said a diverse work force was key to attracting companies to the area. "With a diverse work force, you get a diverse set of perspectives," DuBuque said. "A diverse set of perspectives is always good when you're trying to innovate."
Kriseman said people only had to walk down Central Avenue to see the economic impact of immigrants. He cited as an example the Pin Wok and Bowl, an Asian fusion restaurant owned by a Thai couple who have lived in St. Petersburg for the past decade.
Kriseman said the city should be making it even easier for immigrant entrepreneurs to get businesses going, suggesting start-up visas to foreign-born entrepreneurs who have ideas and capital.
He also made a big push for encouraging international students who graduate from local colleges to stay and join the local work force.
"These are the very students skilled in the (science, technology, engineering and math) fields that we desire here in St. Petersburg," Kriseman said. "They are the young people we want populating the Innovation District… We can't afford to lose this kind of talent."
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Contact Caitlin Johnston at email@example.com or (727) 893-8779. Follow @cljohnst.