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story.lead_photo.caption Foreign-born share of populations - Photo by NWA Democrat-Gazette/CHRIS SWINDLE / SOURCE: U.S. Census Bureau

FAYETTEVILLE — City leaders want to make it easier for foreign-born residents to pay a water bill, find a place to live or get to work, according to a plan the City Council will consider Tuesday.

The Welcoming Fayetteville plan aims to help newcomers with basic services and to increase the city’s diversity in the process. Fayetteville has the lowest percentage of foreign-born residents out of the four major cities of Northwest Arkansas, according to a U.S. Census Bureau data. Springdale’s foreign-born population is about a quarter of its population, while Fayetteville has hovered at 7 percent for the past few years.

The plan makes a series of recommendations with short-term and long-term goals in three categories: community, economic impact and the future. City staff did the report with support from local organizations and nonprofit groups and input from the public.

Framework

Recommendations of the Welcoming Plan are split into three categories.

Community

A successful community creates a sense of belonging. It embraces and shifts with its changing population. It celebrates diversity through avenues that are accessible to everyone. A community breaks down barriers and makes everyday life easier.

Economic impact

New foreign-born residents have a positive economic impact on the region, according to reports. This means more jobs, more contributions and a more diverse and well-educated working population.

The future

The future is the youth and their education system. The future means thinking ahead and building today for a better tomorrow. The future demands patience, nurturing and open ears.

Source: Fayetteville Welcoming Plan

Augusta Branham, with the city’s Communications Department, said the key is breaking down the barriers, language or otherwise, that might dissuade different populations from living in the city.

“We’re a city that has always stood for diversity and inclusion,” she said. “It just seemed natural that we would also be leaders in this effort.”

Mayor Lioneld Jordan was introduced to the Welcoming City concept after the release of a 2016 report commissioned by the New American Economy, EngageNWA and the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation. The report found immigrants contributed about $3.1 billion to the region’s gross domestic product in 2014 and held $1 billion in spending power. They also contributed $131 million in state and local taxes in 2014, according to the report.

The Welcoming City concept, developed by nonprofit Welcoming America, has municipalities and organizations try to include foreign-born newcomers in various plans and operations. Fayetteville and the Northwest Arkansas Council are Welcoming America members.

The Welcoming Fayetteville plan lays out a series of goals over the next five years. They include increasing the city’s foreign-born population, making more multilingual documents and materials available, having a more diverse demographic of residents participating in city government and developing trusting relationships between immigrants and government.

For example, the plan recommends revisiting the city’s requirements for serving on an advisory board. Right now, anyone who wants to sit on such a body has to be a registered voter within the city. Only U.S. citizens can be registered voters.

Another recommendation would create a free course for adults to get an introduction to city government. The course would cover the basics, such as what city officials do, how decisions are made, the organizational structure and how to find information on projects or items before the City Council. The course would be made accessible to anyone not yet proficient in English.

Margot Lemaster, director of WelcomeNWA, the Northwest Arkansas Council’s diversity and inclusion arm, said Fayetteville is among other regional cities participating in a broader effort to address challenges for residents of different backgrounds. The council expects to put out a report this summer, she said.

“Diversity will only grow here in Northwest Arkansas,” Lemaster said. “In order to make sure that we continue to be a great place to live and work, we’ve got to make sure that our population — whether they’re moving from another country or another state — that they come here and they feel included in our community.”

Stacy Ryburn can be reached by email at sryburn@nwadg.com or on Twitter @stacyryburn.

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Print Headline: Welcoming plan focuses on inclusion

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