American small-town industrial decline and global political economic instability are interconnected. The recent US presidential election showed how Americans are grappling with the issue of immigration. While cities across the globe are being shaped by political unrest and mass migration, American legacy cities (older industrial urban areas that have experienced significant population decline and job loss, resulting in high residential vacancy and diminished service capacity and resources), are particularly primed to benefit from embracing a new wave of refugee migration.
The former mill town of Lewiston, Maine has followed a pattern of significant resettlement. Among Lewiston’s 36,000 inhabitants, 6,000 are Somali refugees who have relocated to the city since 2001. Refugee resettlement has curbed significant population loss and reversed the city’s slow fade.
Resettlement centers in declining industrial cities like Lewiston, can foster entrepreneurship, stimulate the economy, and act as mechanisms for inclusion and integration. This program functions as a framework to bridge the ambitions of the emerging immigrant population with the recovery of, American cities, often in the rustbelt, that have suffered decades of economic decline, population loss, and urban decay due to deindustrialization.
In Lewiston, the textile industry collapsed after World War I when Lewiston’s water mills became outmoded and companies moved to the South. Subsequently, other businesses closed and the economy went into sharp decline. Today, much of the infrastructure created in that period – the canals, buildings – remain idle or underused even as Lewiston’s economy is facing an identity crisis, struggling to grow.
While refugee resettlement can initially be costly, investing in refugees yields tangible economic benefits. Refugee resettlement grows the labor pool and increases local revenues through investment, taxes and consumption. Resettlement Centers can strengthen the economy, bolster civic pride, and make cities work better for all residents.