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As others see it: Work force needs immigrants

The warning is not new: With the retirement of baby boomers, we will face a worker and skills shortage. But while the ready remedies -- retention, recruitment and training -- are part of the equation, they don't speak to another threat we must face.

State Demographer Tom Gillaspy recently told a Mankato audience that within five years our area will have virtually no labor force growth, and the available work force will decline after that. ...

The state's labor force is about 8 percent foreign born; that percentage will grow, Gillaspy predicts.

He pointed out that a highly skilled engineer from another country may help keep a company located in Mankato. He emphasized that communities need to help train, educate and "welcome" immigrants. And he said we should look toward doing things better, not cheaper.

Worthy goals. Now let's throw in a few other realities.

We as a nation have a history of educating foreign nationals only to block them from working in the United States. They then return to their homelands to help build success there. Asian countries are reaping the benefit from our short-sightedness. ...

And while the notion of "welcoming" immigrants and refugees into our communities may be vital to our future, we are seeing a backlash against foreigners (dare we say non-white foreigners?), whether it's English-only initiatives or state laws seeking to toughen illegal immigration. ...

We need a fundamental shift in the way we think about immigration, inclusiveness and embracing different cultures and ideas. Or basically what it means to be American.

The Free Press of Mankato