If Texans want growth, then we need immigrants

Photo by Michael Stravato for The Texas Tribune

When I was growing up, buying a house was considered the American Dream. Today, a shrinking labor pool of construction workers has made that dream less attainable. Houses are becoming more expensive. That’s one reason why many young people cannot afford a home of their own.

I own an interior construction company in Houston. If I could, I’d hire 400 or 500 more workers. But I can’t find enough qualified people. State lawmakers are actively trying to repel our immigrant workforce, and it’s working. Many immigrants are voting with their feet— leaving Texas and heading to California, Colorado and Florida.

Fortunately, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and Police Chief Art Acevedo recognize the immense value immigrants bring to our community. Programs like the Mayors’ Advisory Council on New Americans and  Houston Greeters strive to include, aid and welcome newcomers. A New American Economy study measuring how well city policies are helping to integrate immigrants found that Houston excels in government leadership and community engagement.

A growing immigrant community is essential to a growing city. With an aging population and dwindling fertility rate, we need workers. Here in the Houston metro area, 84.5 percent of foreign-born residents are of working age, compared with 59.8 percent of the U.S.-born residents.

And it’s not just a matter of being young and able-bodied. We also need workers who are willing to go into vocational trades, and many U.S.-born young people simply aren’t interested. In fact, in a poll published last year by the National Association of Home Builders, only 3 percent of Americans age 18 to 25 named the construction trades as their desired field.

Immigrant labor actually bolsters the economy, preserving local jobs . An NAE analysis found that for every 1,000 immigrants living in a county, 46 manufacturing jobs are created or preserved. In Houston, as of 2014, that meant that more than 64,000 local manufacturing jobs were created or preserved as a result of immigrants living in the area.

My family business, which turns 80 this year, is proof of this. My great-grandfather came to Texas from Czechoslovakia. My father and uncles started our business in Houston in 1938, and by 1945 the people working for the company were Czech, German, and Irish. They spoke different languages and there were a lot of tensions and sensitivities  about World War II, as many came from countries that had been on different sides, but they all integrated and became Americans.

Immigrants have always made this country strong, and they will continue to. But only if we let them.

Stan Marek

Chairman and CEO, Marek Companies