Rust Best Revitalized in Dayton

When faced with population decline and economic hardship, Dayton made a plan to harness the potential of immigrants to reimagine their community and create a brighter future for all residents.

In 2011, the City of Dayton announced a communitywide initiative – guided by the Welcome Dayton plan – designed to attract, retain, and engage in the city. The plan, adopted unanimously by the city council in 2011, includes programs that provide marketing support for specific neighborhoods that have become hubs of immigrant entrepreneurship; community gatherings that create dialogue and empathy between U.S-born and immigrant residents; recommendations for educating immigrants about social services, and increase access to ESL and literacy courses.

All of these efforts make current immigrant residents feel more a part of the broader community and ensure that immigrants and their children fully participate as community members and builders. Equally important to the work in Dayton is the process that led to the plan, which continues to bring together numerous immigrant and receiving community partners through a series of task forces to ensure the plan’s goals are carried out.

Welcoming efforts in Dayton have included a focus on receiving community engagement. In one example, Dayton Public Schools established a Welcoming Center to help immigrant children with academic performance and socialization. Center programming includes individualized mentoring and tutoring with community volunteers. It is a reciprocal relationship, for the students enrich the lives of the mentors as much as the mentors help the students. “To know that I can help accelerate a student’s learning, share my culture with other people, and help them acclimate into the United States is really important to me,” said volunteer mentor Melissa Bertolo, who is also the city’s Welcome Dayton coordinator.

Since the creation of the Welcome Dayton Plan, Dayton has seen revitalized neighborhoods and business corridors, along with a significant increase in the number of immigrants settling in the city, which has helped to offset over 20 years of rapid population decline; now, local population and tax revenue decline has all but halted. Also, Dayton’s rate of immigrant attraction is nearly four times that of the national average; between 2011 and 2012, Dayton’s immigrant population increased by over 40%, compared to a 7% increase for Ohio overall. Business districts and neighborhoods that were previously half empty are now thriving due to the arrival of new immigrants.

A recent study by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation recognized Welcome Dayton’s immigrant welcoming approach as a key strategy for building prosperity, noting that its efforts are already attracting new immigrants to the city, helping to reverse population decline, and revitalizing dormant business districts.