CONCORD, N.H. — Ali Sekou is something of a trailblazer.
Originally from Niger, Sekou immigrated to the US in 2012. That meant some setbacks. Though he’d been a law student in Niger, in the US he had to take night classes at a high school to learn English. He put himself through community college, and then eventually earned a bachelor’s degree at Plymouth State University and a master’s degree in community development and leadership at the University of New Hampshire. His efforts paid off: In the recent municipal elections, he was elected to serve as a city councilor in Concord.
“I’m the first Black, first immigrant, first Muslim, and the youngest elected to the City Council,” he said at a conference Nov. 15 that highlighted the critical role immigrants play in New Hampshire’s labor market. The conference was hosted by NH Songa, an organization that aims to bridge the gap between immigrants and their host communities.
Sekou’s message to attendees was that immigrants have a lot to offer, if they are given a chance. He urged other immigrants to get involved in their communities through local government or volunteering.
“We don’t have to live in the shadow or think that we are here just to earn money. We are here as part of the community,” said Sekou, who recently accepted a job as manager of community engagement and inclusion for the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority.
Without immigrants like Sekou, New Hampshire’s population and its economy would not be growing, other panelists noted.
Phil Sletten, research director at the New Hampshire Fiscal Policy Institute, said that immigrants from abroad have been critical in driving population growth, which has been historically linked to economic growth in the state. Data from 2010 to 2022 showed that about half the state’s growth came from international migration during that time. International migration contributed to about 36,500 new residents, while domestic migration added about 27,100.
Sletten said the state remains dependent on people moving here in order to keep growing, since there have been more deaths than births in New Hampshire in recent years.
New Hampshire also faces the most severe workforce shortage of the past 20 years, according to data from the New Hampshire Fiscal Policy Institute. Sletten said in the early 2000s, there was about one open job per unemployed person. But by last July, there were just under four open jobs per unemployed person in the state.
That’s put companies in a difficult position when it comes to hiring.
“The only way the economy in New Hampshire is going to grow is if we have more immigration,” said Steve Duprey, president of Foxfire Property Management and the Duprey Companies. Duprey is also a prominent figure in New Hampshire Republican politics and was a Republican National Committee member.
Duprey, whose company includes four hotels, said new Americans were a key part of the labor market in the hospitality business. “We could not have our businesses without the new Americans,” he said.
The company partnered with the Ascentria Care Alliance, an agency that helps immigrants, to create a training program in order to place more people in jobs.
Moving forward, Duprey said, more support is needed for new Americans, who face barriers when it comes to transportation, housing, and language. He said the state should create a program so businesses could pay employees for taking language classes, and suggested legislation to offer a tax credit to participating businesses.
“The best way to get more new Americans here is to come up with state supports that we put on top of federal supports to make it a place where new Americans want to come,” he said.
This story was updated to correctly state that Sekou is originally from Niger.