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Midstate workforce development plan focuses on strength of immigrants

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FILE- In this Sept. 27, 2018, file photo a bilingual help wanted sign for Auto Zone, a retailer of aftermarket automotive parts and accessories, is posted outside the store in Canton, Miss.  (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)

(Harrisburg) — A Lancaster County business group has a new strategy to strengthen the area’s workforce.

The plan from the Lancaster Chamber seeks to do more to help immigrants and refugees get jobs. 

The plan got its start three years ago with research into immigrants’ contributions to the local economy.

“At the time we realized they were contributing at high levels in our community and they were also contributing to our workforce,” said Heather Valudes, the chamber’s community impact director. “And workforce is the number one issue we hear about at the chamber.”

Nearly five percent of Lancaster County’s population is foreign-born. The chamber’s report found they contribute more than $1 billion to the county’s GDP.

However, they face challenges like a lack of English-languages skills or, in some cases, their professional credentials from their home countries won’t transfer here.

Valudes said the plan feels like a natural path to attract people that can help meet workforce demands

“In Lancaster, we’ve long been a welcoming community. We’ve been a community that’s had immigrants and refugees within it and they’ve been a vital part of our community,” Valudes said. 

The plan is a blend of marketing, advocacy, and developing resources to connect employers and the immigrant population.

For example, the chamber plans to create the Lancaster Immigrant Employer Network, made up of online resources as well as in-person events like roundtable discussions and job fairs. 

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