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State seeks model city for immigration plan

By Rod Boshart Gazette
Des Moines Bureau
September 26, 2000 08:27 AM

DES MOINES -- State officials hope to find one or two interested communities to become models for assimilating immigrants into Iowa as part of an effort to increase Iowa's population and address a shortage of skilled workers, Gov. Tom Vilsack said Monday.

The governor told his weekly news conference the state Department of Economic Development already has received inquiries from communities interested in working to develop a strategic plan designed to encourage a smooth transition for bringing 50 to 100 skilled workers from outside the United States.

"We believe that creating such a smooth transition with a comprehensive strategic plan will make it easier for all and will perhaps reduce some of the concern that has been expressed by some Iowans about this plan," Vilsack said.

He said the size of the town that will be selected for the immigration project is not as important as "the size of the heart of the community we're looking for."

Encouraging immigrants to settle in Iowa is part of a trio of efforts that includes encouraging young Iowans to stay in the state and enticing former Iowans to return home that will be needed to meet a "very ambitious goal" set by the governor's 2010 task force to increase Iowa's population by 310,000 over the next 10 years, he said.

To date, Vilsack said 360 people have moved back to Iowa as a result of the state's recruitment efforts, while more than 8,500 ex-Iowans have requested information about Iowa job opportunities via direct mail. More than 3,000 have been connected directly with employers, and 750 have posted resumes on the Web site of the Iowa Human Resource Recruitment Consortium.

The governor also has been traveling to Iowa college campuses to talk with young people and is hopeful the Vision Iowa board will begin taking applications this year from communities seeking a share of more than $200 million in state help available to build major attractions of special interest to younger residents.

Another key element, Vilsack said, is to rekindle Iowans' welcoming spirit that brought waves of immigrants to Iowa from war-torn nations in the 1970s to establish the state of a worldwide destination for people seeking a new home and new opportunity for themselves and their children.

The governor said his office has received hundreds of letters and e-mails from around the world since a front-page article appeared in the New York Times about Iowa's efforts to welcome immigrants. He added it is important that the effort to recruit people to Iowa be orderly both for the new arrivals and the communities where they settle.