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Chamber Chat: SAGA Committed to Working with Hispanic Community

By Meg Moss, Executive director, Sanford Area Chamber of Commerce

Published Dec. 14, 2015, The Sanford Herald

Established in 2006, The Latino Migration Project is a collaborative program of the Institute for the Study of the Americas and the Center for Global Initiatives at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. According to the Latino Migration website, the project directs a number of programs, including the Building Integrated Communities (BIC) program to assist local governments in North Carolina in successfully engaging with immigrant and refugee populations. Through this initiative, governments can improve public safety, promote economic development, enhance communication and improve relationships.

The BIC project is awarded by competitive grant and Sanford was one of the first recipients. Through the grant, researchers at UNC commit to facilitate meetings and assess the community’s needs, as well as provide an engagement action plan and set of best practices for future civic engagement.

In turn, Sanford Lee County agrees to commit financial resources and time to enhancing immigrant integration. Specifically, representatives from all city agencies participate in the planning process, which includes the community needs assessment, as well as relationships building and dialogue with local immigrant leaders.

The Latino Migration Project fulfills a number of critical needs in a state with one of the fastest growing Latino populations in the nation. These needs include strategic planning for immigrant integration in NC municipalities. According to the United States Census Bureau, Lee County’s Hispanic population is 19.5 percent (2014) and 25.6 percent (2010) of Sanford’s population is of Hispanic origin. This is in comparison to the North Carolina Hispanic population, which is 9 percent, and the Hispanic population of the United States, which is 17.4 percent in Lee County schools. 33 percent of students are of Hispanic origin.

With our growing Hispanic population, it is more important than ever to work together to determine a strategy for a more unified county. Sanford Lee County is to be commended for reaching out to UNC Chapel Hill for assistance in determining this strategic plan.

The grant lasts three years. The focus in year one was gathering information by surveying immigrant and U.S. born-residents, discussion with local nonprofit agencies, and holding public meetings, the city of Sanford notes on its blog.

“Sanford had the highest response rate of any municipality, city or county that we work with in the state,” Hannah Gill, BIC director told the Sanford City Council in an update on the grant. This speaks volumes of our community and shows our willingness to work together.

During public meetings and in surveys, the BIC program asked residents to identify the major issues affecting local immigrants in Sanford and Lee County. Three issues came to the forefront: immigrant police relationships, public transportation, and communications with the Hispanic/Latino community. In November, the program held a public strategy session to address these key concerns.

I often hear from employers that transportation to work is a key factor in someone’s ability to maintain a job. And as indicated by the BIC surveys, lack of public transportation or lack of the knowledge of our public transportation system is a real issue.

The Sanford Area Growth Alliance (SAGA) as the lead organization for new business recruitment understands the importance of business growth for all demographics. We are committed to working with the Hispanic community for business growth and recruitment.