For 10 years, Neelay Bhatt, a first-generation immigrant from India, has tracked shifts in demographics. In fact, he’s among Hoosiers contributing to change.
“In the next 10 to 15 years, we’re pretty much going to double the immigrant population in Marion County to about one out of every eight people,” said Bhatt, a Bombay native who is vice president of PROS Consulting.
“All of those are going to result in additional jobs that on the bottom line are going to help the economy in the state. So I think it could be a great business advantage and it could be a great perception to continue to build on that Indiana is a welcoming state.”
His perceptions are confirmed by the preliminary results of a study by Emily Wornell, research assistant professor with Ball State University’s Indiana Communities Institute.
Her analysis, titled “Current Trends in Immigration to Indiana,” shows that the state has depended on immigrants to drive economic and population growth since 2000. She found that 320,000 to 326,000 immigrants, or about one of every 20 Hoosiers, accounted for 27 percent of the state’s population growth from 2000 to 2015.
About 85,000 second-generation Americans living in Indiana are the largest single economic contributor from a demographic group, in terms of earnings, taxes and job creation.
Jobs in manufacturing and tourism/recreation benefited the most from immigration.
“A quarter of all immigrants in Indiana settle in the Indy area, but other counties, particularly in east-central Indiana, have been seeing an increase in the immigrant population at the same time they are experiencing native-born population decline,” Wornell said.
She is working with counterparts at the University of Notre Dame to analyze immigrants’ impact on Indiana.
Her research also found that 30.3 percent of the foreign-born population in Indiana earned bachelor’s degrees, compared to 23.7 percent native-born Hoosiers.
She said immigration kept Cass and Clinton counties from losing total population. Another 14 counties — Benton, Fountain, Knox, Posey, Wabash, Grant, Madison, Tipton, Blackford, Delaware, Jay, Randolph, Wayne and Rush — lost population, but they also gained immigrants, preventing an even more precipitous decline.
“Immigration may provide the best, most likely chance for population growth or stabilization that these counties are likely to see in the near future,” Wornell wrote in an email. “At the very least, the composition of their population is changing, and that change likely needs to be in incorporated into how these communities think about themselves in the future.”
Bhatt, who is a first-generation immigrant, also serves on the board of the Immigrant Welcome Center in Indianapolis. The agency helps immigrants work through the maze of services available to them.
“I’ve always felt welcome here,” said Bhatt, who has lived here 11 years, is married and has a son. “When I moved to Indy, a Hoosier family took me in because I didn’t know anybody else and I stayed with them for a month until I found an apartment. ... Like anywhere else in the world, there’s good and bad. I’ve just had more good experiences than not.”
Wornell’s findings don’t surprise Sarah Fox, community outreach coordinator at the Immigrant Welcome Center.
“These statistics support our long-held belief that immigrants are one of Indiana’s greatest strengths,” she said. “In our decades of experience, immigrants are vital contributors to our economy, and many other states and municipalities across the country recognize this and are building programs to lure immigrants to their communities.”