Alicia A. Caldwell, Wall Street Journal, February 1, 2024
While many American cities are struggling with large numbers of newly arrived migrants, Topeka is inviting anyone and everyone with permission to work in the U.S. to come its way.
Like a lot of smaller cities, the Kansas capital is grappling with near-stagnant population growth and an unemployment rate well below the national average, according to city and economic-development officials. Finding people to fill its roughly 6,600 open jobs has been a struggle, they say.
The Greater Topeka Partnership, an economic-development group, has been trying to sell people on the city with its “Choose Topeka” marketing campaign, which it started in 2019. Last year, it decided to direct those efforts toward immigrants, especially those from Spanish-speaking countries.
In some other cities led by Democrats, including New York, Chicago and Denver, concerns have grown about the number of incoming migrants and their strain on resources. Migrants have been arriving by the thousands, many bused from the border by Texas state authorities.
For Topeka Mayor Michael Padilla, a Democrat in a largely Republican state, the effort to attract immigrants along with Americans living in other cities just made sense.
“We know that for our community to prosper we have to have a diverse community,” said Padilla, who is in his first term. “We have to have people here who are willing to work and make this the city they want to raise a family in, get a career in.”
Padilla, who describes himself politically as a cross between a conservative Democrat and a liberal Republican, and others said there has been little pushback on the effort.
The initial marketing push to immigrants included printing welcome and moving guides in Spanish. The campaign took off in the fall when Telemundo ran a segment on the effort and the benefits of moving to Topeka. TikTok videos about the segment have racked up thousands of views and likes.
Since the news story in Spanish-language media was published, the Greater Topeka Partnership has received nearly 10,000 résumés of people looking for job-placement help to move to the region.
The partnership started the broader “Choose Topeka” campaign in 2019 to recruit workers to move to the city, in some cases offering up to $15,000 a person to help with relocation costs.
The Spanish-language marketing effort so far has cost about $50,000, roughly 10% of the tourism office’s marketing budget, said Sean Dixon, president of Visit Topeka and senior vice president of the Greater Topeka Partnership.
Greater Topeka officials said the city’s growing Hispanic population played a role in its decision to court Spanish-speaking immigrants. About 17% of the city of about 126,000 is Hispanic, and that share has grown about 25% over the last decade while the overall population has grown by just over 1%, according to population data tracked by the Greater Topeka Partnership.
In east and north Topeka, Mexican restaurants and bakeries dot the boulevards. A pair of new Hispanic grocery stores has gone up in recent years, all signs that the community is growing and thriving, city and business development officials said.
Citywide, the effort appears to be largely welcomed, including in the existing business community.
While Topeka is making a pitch to immigrants who can work in the U.S., word that the city is a welcoming place also has reached those lacking both permanent status and work authorization.