Immigrant Community Studio and Working Group on Immigrant Labor

immigrant studio


Dr. Anna Kim, Assistant Professor of Housing and Community Development in the School of City and Regional Planning, worked with a group of Georgia Tech students to conduct an economic impact and community development analysis of Asian/Latino immigrants to the Norcross, CID area and Gwinnett County via a population and economic census, surveying, in-depth interviews, and focus groups. For this project, students were in the field and working with nonprofit partners and ethnic community leaders for 16 weeks. Early results from this project show that immigrant communities are a maturing population, with the average residential tenure (of surveyed participants, N=300) being 16.7 years. The immigrant business community is also quite stable, with the average time in business falling between 7 and 10 years. And yet, many survey participants indicated that despite having been in the area for a long time, there is some intention of leaving within the next 5 years due to poor or weakening infrastructure and/or an "unwelcoming" atmosphere towards immigrants. This is exacerbated by local and federal policy that targets some members of immigrant communities.

To understand the unique potential of immigrant communities in facilitating urban growth in metro Atlanta, Dr. Kim has utilized a CUI seed grant to convene a working group of faculty experts from Georgia Tech, Georgia State University, and Emory University to conduct research focused on authorized and unauthorized immigrant labor in Georgia. By engaging partners like the Georgia Department of Labor, Essential Economy Council, Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, Southern Poverty Law Center, and the Mayoral Office of Multi-Cultural Affairs, this group aimed to address issues related to recent immigrant-related population, and highlight the work of city leaders, nonprofits, and academics in ensuring that the Atlanta area is a strong symbol for immigrant integration in the regional south.


Presentations and Conferences

A review of the scholarship presented at the GIRN's recent inaugural public forum follows below:

School of City and Regional Planning

Although most of the Atlanta MSA’s emerging immigrant growth can be ascribed to Gwinnett County (one of the few counties in the US South transitioning to majority-minority between 2010-2013), no place in Georgia has grown faster (from immigrant relocation / migration) than the City of Norcross, GA. Dr. Kim, an Assistant Professor of Housing and Community Development in the School of City and Regional Planning at Georgia Tech conducted an intensive studio research project with graduate students in City Planning for the City of Norcross. The studio assessed both the civic engagement opportunities and economic contributions of immigrant groups to Norcross. Commissioned by the City of Norcross and the Gwinnett Village Community Improvement District, the studio collected street-level survey data (N=355) on residents’ perspective of immigrant integration. We also partnered with over thirty Atlanta area non-profit organizations, chambers of commerce and churches, and worked with the Latin American Association (LAA) and Asian Americans Advancing Justice Atlanta (AAAJ) to conduct in-depth focus groups within the Latino and Asian community.

The “ethnic economy” of Norcross, despite its relatively recent establishment in the area, composed 27% of all businesses in the city and contributed $897 million in annual sales and employed 9,512 persons. Hong Kong Supermarket, owned by Ben Tran, revitalized a previously empty suburban plaza that had seen the withdrawal of major chain stores from the City in general. Today the plaza and supermarket draws shoppers from not just the metro area or even Georgia, but from out of state areas like Charlotte, North Carolina (Kim, 2015, Resident Survey of Norcross). Between 2009 and 2015 Norcross became an ethnic entrepreneurship hub for immigrant business owners and consumers, across the region. Where Georgia businesses overall have an average of $12,000 in retail sales per capita, Norcross businesses, driven largely by ethnic entrepreneurs, have retail sales per capita upwards of $70,000 per year. Minority-owned businesses (Asian, Latino, and African American) were found to be well integrated into the political fabric of Norcross – spread evenly across all neighborhoods of the city, with a high share of representation of Hispanic, Indian, Chinese, Korean, Middle-Eastern and Vietnamese businesses. Norcross is in a cohort of four “Welcoming America”, and welcoming immigrant cities in Georgia, with the City of Atlanta, the City of Clarkston, and the City of Decatur.

WellStar College of Health and Human Services

Dr. Rodriguez, an Assistant Professor of Social Work and Human Services, worked with the Latin American Association of Georgia to conduct a Latino Community Needs Assessment of the region (2015). The LAA is the largest direct service provider for Latinos in the Southeastern United States, and is an anchor institution for the Latino community. The Kennesaw State University (KSU) research team conducted a survey of Latino residents (N=1675) between January and July of 2015, led eight focus groups (N=48), and completed a community report.

The surveys were conducted in English and Spanish and distributed in major community hubs across the Atlanta metropolitan area. Findings from the survey found that only 1 in 5 respondents spoke fluent English, and over 1/3 (36%) of respondents indicated that language difficulties prevented them from finding a job or getting a better job. Almost 45% of survey respondents reported that they did not have a driver’s license, which also acted as a barrier to finding a job, particularly given that about 11% of respondents also did not live within walking distance to access of public transportation. Despite existing labor market barriers, immigrant respondents were interested at high levels in obtaining their GED (37%) or college degree (46%), with more than half (53%) interested in starting their own business. The survey also revealed that while access to public services and opportunities to engage with broader communities were limited, there was strong interest in learning US customs and values (49%), becoming a US citizen (50%) and voting (41%). Increasing levels of personal, political, and economic participation were very important to a large majority of Latino residents in the Atlanta area.

Andrew Young School of Public Policy

The work of Xi Huang and Dr. Cathy Yang Liu (Associate Professor, Georgia State University) has added nuance to the national picture of Welcoming Cities and Counties. Welcoming Immigrant Cities and Counties across the United States have a varying of policies directed at new immigrants: these range across civic engagement, economic development, public safety, and community building as broad categories of immigrant integration strategies and programs. In addition, new Welcoming Cities are not uniform in size, or in immigrant residential population growth. Since 2005, 370 local governments have either proposed or implemented immigration-related policies. These policies are most often focused on immigrant regulation. Huang and Liu found that “most of these policies are focused on immigrant regulation, on whether undocumented immigrants should be allowed to enter, and whether or not their legal rights should be protected.” In recent years, however, local immigration policies include local level immigrant integration initiatives, most visibly adopted through or aligned with the Welcoming America platform (67 cities in 31 states). Some cities, like Decatur, GA, have no sizable or even modest levels of new immigrant population (low-low) – and have also joined Welcoming America as a Welcoming City.

The authors found that a city’s adoption of initiatives to welcome new immigrants to the area did not necessarily correspond to high immigrant residential population growth in the place, but varied between areas that have had low immigrant populations in the 2000 Census and high levels of immigrant population growth in 2010 (low-high), previously low immigrant populations and low growth (low-low), to areas that have had historically high immigrant populations and high growth (high-high), and lastly, cities that used to have high immigrant populations and relatively low new immigrant growth (high-low).

Department of Geography and Anthropology

Dr. McDaniel, an Assistant Professor of Geography at Kennesaw State University and previously a research fellow with the American Immigration Council in Washington, DC, examined immigrant integration through a multi-scalar perspective. Immigrant experiences are shaped by the “compounding experience of multiple scales – the nation, the city, the neighborhood, the home, and the self.” As communities reshape themselves into places of welcome (for new immigrants) how are governments (local to state) responding to the needs of immigrants and other communities?

In the course of his research, he conducted interviews with various agencies and government officials in three welcoming cities: Nashville, TN (also a major emerging gateway), Dayton, OH (a low-immigration metro area), and Chicago, IL (a traditional and major continuous gateway). All three cities are involved with the Welcoming Cities program. The study explored receptivity (or welcoming-ness) along a continuum: some places have low receptivity and not very inclusive of immigrant groups, and some places have high receptivity, but most places are somewhere in the middle. There are also sometimes scalar conflicts. For example, while a city or town might see itself as proactively welcoming of immigrant residents and inclusive of diversity, the place might be in a state that is not as welcoming of immigrants. This can also lead to conflicts in policy, and tensions in local governments. McDaniel has found that “although receptivity is constructed through intentional and unintentional practice at all scales, the scales don’t always align, and can often run counter to each other (collision of scales).”


The Center for Urban Innovation


Anna Kim


  • Georgia Department of Labor
  • Essential Economy Council
  • Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights
  • Southern Poverty Law Center
  • Mayoral Office of Multi-Cultural Affairs