Refugees revive struggling small town economy

Global Business

Refugees revive struggling small town economy

Donald Trump’s promise of a revitalized America with a strong manufacturing base resonated with voters in Erie, Pennsylvania.

But his anti-refugee rhetoric stands in stark contrast to a growing reality, that towns like Erie need refugees to keep their economies growing.

CGTN’s Karina Huber reports.

Refugees revive struggling small town economy

Donald Trump’s promise of a revitalized America with a strong manufacturing base resonated with voters in Erie, Pennsylvania. But his anti-refugee rhetoric stands in stark contrast to a growing reality, that towns like Erie need refugees to keep their economies growing. CGTN’s Karina Huber reports.

At Sterling Technologies, a plastics factory in Erie Pennsylvania, you’ll see all kinds of faces. The plant employs roughly 45 refugees. They come from Bhutan, Syria, Iraq and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

“Most of them are eager to work because it’s their first job here,” Marty Learn, a supervisor at the plant said. “They’re trying to make some money for their family. Most of them are married, have kids. They’re trying to get a foothold.”

Erie, known for its plastics industry, was once a major manufacturing hub. But many of the big factories are now gone. Its unemployment rate at 6.6 percent in February was well above the national average. As a result, the native-born population has dwindled.

Learn said, at times, they’ve had difficulty recruiting Americans.

“A lot of people don’t want to do this labor-intensive work for nine dollars an hour. It’s a low skill job and some people would rather work in McDonalds,” Learn said.

Almost 30 percent of Sterling’s current workforce are refugees. Nar Gurung, who spent 24 years in a refugee camp in Nepal, said she’s thankful for the job.

“If we do the job, we’ll get money. So money is everything. If there is money, no life, nothing is there,” she said.

“They finally have the opportunity to start their life. You know they’ve been in kind of limbo. So, they want to get the kids back in school and get to work and start to rebuild their family,” Dylanna Jackson, director of the International Institute of Erie said.

Jackson said refugees, which account for roughly 18 percent of Erie’s population of 100,000, are a vital part of Erie’s economy.

They’re renting and buying homes, starting businesses like grocery stores and restaurants and they have become customers for local businesses like this furniture store where they account for roughly 10 percent of sales.

For factories like Sterling that rely on low-wage workers, they have become a pool of labor. Refugees say they feel welcome here but President Trump is less embracing of them.

In January, Trump lowered the cap on the number of refugees allowed into the U.S. to 50,000. That’s a drop of more than 50 percent from the level in 2016—a decline that could have a dramatic impact on companies like Sterling.