Cuyahoga County, OH and Roanoke, VA latest cities to become Certified Welcoming

February 19, 2024 — Welcoming America, a national nonprofit organization, announces two municipalities as the latest to become Certified Welcoming, each at the 1-star designation: Cuyahoga County in Ohio and the City of Roanoke in Virginia.

Rachel Perić, executive director of Welcoming America, said: “We are thrilled to recognize Cuyahoga County and the City of Roanoke in becoming Certified Welcoming places, affirming its leadership in building policies and partnerships that enable all those making it home — including people with immigrant and refugee backgrounds — to thrive and belong. We look forward to celebrating and supporting each community’s ongoing efforts to foster a welcoming place for all.”

Cuyahoga County is the second county in Ohio to be certified

Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland, is now the second county in Ohio and the fourth municipality overall in the state to receive the Certified Welcoming designation (the others being the City of Dayton, City of Toledo, and Lucas County).

Cuyahoga County made the announcement on February 14 as part of the opening of the Welcome Center in Cleveland. The Cuyahoga County Welcome Center will serve immigrants, refugees, and those with limited English proficiency through a centralized access point for public benefits and resources, including housing, workforce training, educational services, legal support, and language services.

Cuyahoga County Executive Chris Ronayne said: "Cuyahoga County welcomes everyone, including our immigrant and refugee population. The Cuyahoga County Welcome Center symbolizes our commitment to embracing diversity. It is also a place where immigrants and refugees can feel valued and be successful. We are thrilled to receive the Certified Welcoming designation from Welcoming America. This recognition reflects our efforts to build bridges, foster understanding, and ensure everyone feels at home in Cuyahoga County."

In addition to the Welcome Center, Cuyahoga County’s welcoming efforts include creating new staff positions and intentional outreach through the Community Outreach, Messaging, and Education Team — or COMET — as well as strong partnerships with organizations like Global Cleveland, another Welcoming Network member, and Refugee Services Collaborative of Greater Cleveland to identify new avenues of collaboration and engagement, particularly with refugee residents.

As of 2021, residents born outside of the U.S make up 7.55% of the total population in Cuyahoga County, according to DataUSA. Foreign-born residents in the county contributed $11.8 billion to the county’s GDP, or 6.8% of the total, in 2019, according to the American Immigration Council.

Roanoke becomes first Certified Welcoming city in Virginia

To the east, the City of Roanoke in Virginia became the first in the commonwealth to earn the Certified Welcoming designation.

Mayor Sherman P. Lea, Sr., said: “I am proud that we have earned the prestigious Certified Welcoming designation, making history as the first city in Virginia to achieve this milestone. In Roanoke, our diversity is not only celebrated but cherished, enriching our community with unique perspectives, cultures, and talents. This recognition reaffirms our commitment to fostering an inclusive environment where everyone feels valued and welcomed. Together, we embrace the diversity that makes the City of Roanoke truly exceptional.”

City Manager Bob Cowell, said: “Roanoke is a vibrant and resilient community in large part because of its welcoming spirit, especially for those that have arrived from afar. In Roanoke, we work together as a community to ensure our newest neighbors not only feel welcome, but have a genuine sense of belonging in their new home — Roanoke.”

The City of Roanoke will formally announce its designation today at the city council meeting, which will stream live on Facebook at 2 p.m. ET and include the participation of the city council, city management staff, school representatives, graduates of My City Academy, members of the Community Advisory Panel, and local nonprofits that assisted with the certification process. A reception will be held tomorrow, February 21.

As of 2017, immigrants made up 5.5% of the population in the Roanoke region, contributing to the overall population growth of 1.2% between 2012 and 2017, according to the American Immigration Council. In 2023, the city welcomed 131 newcomers.

In Welcoming America’s audit, Roanoke is noted for its consistent use of an equity lens in all local government work. It also benefits from strong local partnerships, such as Blue Ridge Literacy, which champions adult education and literacy achievements among the community, as well as Roanoke Public Schools, which offers information and resources in multiple languages and provides culturally-sensitive menu items in school cafeterias.

About Certified Welcoming

Certified Welcoming is a formal designation by Welcoming America for cities and counties that have created policies and programs reflecting their commitment to immigrant inclusion. Since 2017, Certified Welcoming and its operating framework, the Welcoming Standard, have served as a roadmap for local governments seeking to build truly welcoming communities.

Cuyahoga County and the City of Roanoke join a growing list of places (currently 26 municipalities) receiving the designation under the new star system implemented by Welcoming America last year. The county was also one of three places to participate in the star system’s pilot program. Far from being a “rating system”, the new Certified Welcoming star system creates a roadmap for communities to advance welcoming work with transparency and accountability.


About Welcoming America
Welcoming America is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that leads a movement of inclusive communities becoming more prosperous by ensuring everyone belongs. We believe that all people, including immigrants, are valued contributors and vital to the success of our communities and shared future. Learn more