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Diversity helps drive the economic engine to power Anchorage's future

Diversity is far more than a catchphrase used to describe Anchorage. It is the entrepreneur chef from Sudan. It is the oil executive from Norway. It is the student from China, and the lawyer from Ukraine. Diversity is the face of our neighbor, the names in our family and the identity of our city because Anchorage bridges the globe at the top of the world. We have grown from a small Dena'ina village, to a community of people from across Alaska and around the planet. In this mix, immigrants and refugees are vital to Anchorage's identity and economy. More than 9 percent of our city's population is foreign-born, our schools rank among the most diverse in the country, and we have the most ethnically varied neighborhoods in the nation.

In 2014, Anchorage joined the Welcoming America project, which recognizes the economic, cultural and social contributions that immigrants and refugees make to our communities and to our country. Next week, we kick off "Welcoming Anchorage" -- a partnership between the Municipality of Anchorage, local businesses, cultural organizations and the Anchorage Economic Development Corp. When Anchorage became a member of the National Welcoming America project last year, the AEDC Live.Work.Play. initiative committed to support it as part of its diversity effort, "One Anchorage One Economy." Although the national project focuses on immigrant and refugee communities, Welcoming Anchorage integrates all cultures and peoples living here.

Welcoming Anchorage highlights our city as a place proud of our heritage and poised to be a globally competitive, culturally vibrant 21st century community. During the first year of this initiative, we will focus on economic diversification through entrepreneurship and innovation. Diversity is a key to diversification: between 2006 and 2010, new immigrant business owners and entrepreneurs accounted for 7.8 percent of all net business income in the state. In 2010, almost 10 percent of Alaska's business owners were foreign-born. These statistics bear witness that a welcoming community creates a growing and thriving economy that benefits all of us.

Today's young talent and tomorrow's leaders are looking for a city that is aesthetically pleasing, welcoming and culturally vibrant. Attracting talent spurs economic growth and equips Anchorage to take on the challenges of tomorrow. A welcoming city means a good education, quality housing, arts, culture and recreation will be accessible to everyone, without regard to gender, ethnicity, race, sexual orientation and identity, or disability. Anchorage's diversity is one of our core values, something we are rightfully proud of. It is time to activate this diversity, unlock our potential, and make sure that Anchorage works for all of us.

Anchorage recently became one of 10 Cities of Service in the United States. As a City of Service, we will create public-private partnerships to implement innovative and inclusive strategies that make our neighborhoods more resilient. Combining with this initiative, Welcoming Anchorage shines a light on the positive benefits this diversity brings to our community, our economy, and our neighborhoods. By being a welcoming community, we increase our city's economic and cultural vitality in ways that sustain us well into the future. We know that no matter what our backgrounds or beliefs are, or where we come from -- we share the same dreams and aspirations to make Anchorage a safe, secure and strong city.

Welcoming Anchorage kicks off with a variety of events during Sept. 12-19. On Monday, Sept. 14, the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce Make it Monday Forum introduces this initiative to business leaders. On Wednesday, Sept. 16, the city hosts a naturalization ceremony for the first time at the Anchorage Assembly Chambers. On Thursday, Sept. 17, the Anchorage Museum hosts a reception honoring the Anchorage Consular Corps, Anchorage Sister Cities and international university students. On Saturday, Sept. 19, we celebrate Welcoming Anchorage at the Northway Mall from 2 to 5 p.m. We hope to see you at these events.

Mara Kimmel is first lady of Anchorage and Walter J. Hickel Professor of Strategic Development and Entrepreneurship at Alaska Pacific University. She has worked with immigrants and refugees and Alaska Native organizations throughout Anchorage and Alaska and co-founded the Alaska Institute for Justice.

Archana Mishra is the Director of Live. Work. Play., an initiative led by Anchorage Economic Development Corp. to make Anchorage the No. 1 city in America by 2025.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.

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