Iowa State University Extension Service’s Himar Hernandez speaks to Greene County leaders about the experiences of many Iowa communities that have embraced immigration.
Iowa State University Extension Service’s Himar Hernandez speaks to Greene County leaders about the experiences of many Iowa communities that have embraced immigration.
December 12, 2013



Jefferson

Greene County economic-development leaders are taking a multi-pronged approach to recruit new residents to fill up to 1,000 new jobs expected to be available in the county within the next five years.

The county is aggressively pursuing local high school graduates who live elsewhere. And Jefferson is a lead local community in Gov. Terry Branstad's Home Base Iowa initiative aimed at attracting returning military men and women to jobs in Iowa.

On Tuesday, the Greene County Development Corp. continued pursuit of a third track: emerging immigrant communities.

Near Latino-rich Perry (35 percent), and close to Des Moines (12 percent Latino) and Denison (42 percent Latino), Greene County is well-positioned to welcome the immigrant community to its employee and resident pool, said Himar Hernandez, associate director of community and economic development for Iowa State University Extension Service.

Hernandez, a native of Spain who lives in Ottumwa, is the extension service's expert on Latino business development around Iowa. He spoke to the Greene County Development Corp. on Tuesday afternoon, offering data on the Latino commercial experience in the state and observations on how largely white communities can welcome new residents.

A key point for communities like Jefferson, Hernandez said, is that 96 percent of Latino businesses in Iowa are located in downtown areas - not on the fringes of commercial centers. This has meant a reinvigoration of often blighted areas in some Iowa cities.

"They're very downtown-oriented," Hernandez said.

Additionally, Latinos generally live in tight-knit family units. Children tend to stay closer to home - and return after post-secondary education, Hernandez said.

He urged Greene County leaders to incorporate immigrants throughout the community - not create a Hispanic neighborhood.

"We want these folks to be spread around the community," Hernandez said.

The availability of rental housing is vital, he said.

"These folks are not going to buy homes the first day they are here," Hernandez said.

Schools that are prepared to deal with language barriers can see major boosts with Latino enrollment that can sustain rural schools, he added.

It's crucial, Hernandez said, to make all work related to drawing emerging immigrant communities public - and urge native Iowans to ask hard questions up front so there are not problems stemming from cultural confusion later.

"It can turn into a disaster if you're not ready," Hernandez said.

Greene County Development Corp. officials are now in the exploratory stage of a possible immigration outreach effort. No programs have been formally launched.

The presentation from Hernandez followed one at a GCDC meeting last month by Lorena Lopez, editor of the western- and central-Iowa Spanish-language newspaper La Prensa.