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Austin leads Heartland metros in foreign-born population growth

Austin is one of the leading Heartland metros when it comes to foreign-born population growth, according to a new report from the Arkansas-based think tank Heartland Forward. (Shutterstock)

Austin's foreign-born population grew by nearly 40% between 2010 and 2019, placing it among the most attractive Heartland metros among immigrants and ensuring the city's future as one of the country's critical economic hubs, according to a recent report published by Heartland Forward.

The Arkansas-based think tank studied foreign-born population growth in the American Heartland—a 20-state region that stretches from the Appalachians to the Rockies. The area has seen its share of the foreign-born population rise from 23.5% in 2010 to 31.1% in 2019 and may be supplanting historic immigration hubs such as New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

The 20-state Heartland region stretches from the Appalachians to the Rockies. (Heartland Forward)

Heartland metros such as Austin offer relatively low costs of living, economic opportunity and a spirit of friendliness, in contrast to the region's profile as "a hotbed of nativist and xenophobic attitudes." This demographic trend is good news, according to Heartland Forward, because it:

  • Lessens pressure on overcrowded areas
  • Reverses the population loss and rapid aging previously seen across the Heartland
  • Helps fill gaps in the U.S. labor market and fuel economic growth

Texas is one outlier among Heartland states in that its population has been steadily growing for decades. More recently, this growth has been mostly driven by an increase in the state's Hispanic population, which grew by more than 2 million people between 2010 and 2020, according to estimates released by the U.S. Census Bureau last June.

(Heartland Forward)

The Heartland's largest metropolitan areas, which include Austin, Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth, stand to benefit most from this immigration wave. The influx of foreign-born residents helps fill gaps in the region's labor market, from the blue-collar manufacturing sector to big tech.

The report cites a recent Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis study, which found that as many as half of all manufacturing workers in Texas are foreign-born. It also points to the pandemic migration of Bay Area tech companies to Heartland metros, including Austin. The Texas capital offers a relatively affordable cost of living and a rapidly growing economy, which appeals to corporations, workers and entrepreneurs.

Foreign-born population growth may also attract another desirable contingent to Heartland metros: millennials. Austin already ranks highly among 25- to -40-year olds, in part thanks to the diversity it offers.

These demographic shifts may lead to changing attitudes in Heartland states, which are increasingly dependent on population growth for economic success. "The reduction in immigration caused by policy changes and the pandemic hit many Heartland industries with severe labor shortages, from restaurants to farms, factories and hospitals," according to the report.

Heartland Forward argues it is critical that Heartland metros help immigrants integrate through better access to municipal services, English language training and job opportunities. If they do so, the region could reverse decades of decline and return to the enterprising hubs they once were.


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