All Are Welcome in Cedar Rapids, IA
Cedar Rapids strives to be a diverse, inclusive city where immigrants and refugees thrive.
Diversity, equity and inclusion play key roles in Cedar Rapids’ economic development strategy. City leaders understand that a diverse and equitable community is a stronger, more competitive community.
That is why a robust network of nonprofits, businesses and civic leaders work together to ensure new Iowans – including immigrants and refugees – have a fresh start in Cedar Rapids, with access to career opportunities, affordable housing and other community resources.
The city is also part of the Welcoming America network and hosts its own Welcoming Week, a national celebration of refugees and immigrants and the role diversity plays in strengthening communities.
“Cedar Rapids is very communal, which is welcoming for people with an international background.”
Rama Muzo, president and CEO of the Intercultural Center of Iowa
“When people talk about Midwest values, what they mean is that the people here are nicer. People are more open and receptive. People are more welcoming of people who may have a different background,” says Rama Muzo, president and CEO of the Intercultural Center of Iowa. “You experience that welcoming spirit through your neighbors – through the people you come across in your everyday life. Cedar Rapids is very communal, which is welcoming for people with an international background.”
The Intercultural Center of Iowa supports the city’s immigrant and refugee populations through several programs, including education, training and employment services, youth services, homeownership, and advocacy that promotes equity and narrows the opportunity gap in culturally marginalized communities.
“What we try to do is help them define for themselves what it means to be successful in this country and in this community. For some refugees, they have been in survival mode for so long that they haven’t thought about what it means to be a success,” Muzo says.
“We invest in economic development initiatives because we understand that once refugees and immigrants participate in the labor market in the workforce and actually do well, and let’s say, have a good high-paying job and buy a home, then you start seeing a shift from just survival mode. You start to close the opportunity gap not only for their generation but for the second, third and fourth generations.”
The Business of Diversity in Cedar Rapids
Muzo, who himself is an immigrant from Tanzania, says he started the Intercultural Center to give back to a community that welcomed him with open arms.
“When I moved to Cedar Rapids, I discovered we have refugee populations that have been in the refugee camps in Tanzania, so it was very personal to me to help the people I connected with in a deeply cultural way. The fact that I had an opportunity to be in this country and benefit in the country and learn and grow meant the best thing I could do for me is to give back,” he says.
The New Iowans is another group working to close the opportunity gap for refugees and immigrants. The work group sponsored by United Way of Central Iowa brings together other community and nonprofit organizations engaged in the support of refugees and immigrants. The group collaborates to help solve problems, such as access to housing and transportation, language barriers, educational attainment and equal access to employment.
Increasing diversity in the workplace is a key mission of Inclusive ICR. Made up of representatives from local businesses and supported by the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance and Iowa City Area Development Group (ICAD), Inclusive ICR works with schools and colleges to build a pipeline of diverse talent.
The group also helps member companies assess and improve their own DEI strategies. Member companies and organizations include the City of Cedar Rapids, Hy-Vee Food Stores, Mercy Medical Center and Kirkwood Community College.
“Immigrants bring very diverse backgrounds to companies; they bring different ideas and a different way of thinking and doing things. That diversity is important not only from a social aspect but also an economic aspect,” Muzo says. “When people feel welcomed, and when you create an environment that is more diverse and inclusive, people tend to stay. When people stay, they bring their talent here and bring their workforce and manpower here, too. Everybody benefits, and we grow.”
Get to Know Cedar Rapids
Want to learn more about living and working in Cedar Rapids, IA? Check out the latest edition of Livability Cedar Rapids, IA.