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Experts: Kansas depends on immigrant labor, foreign trade

October 27, 2017

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Experts are saying the Kansas economy is heavily dependent on global free trade and immigrant labor at a time when both are heated political issues.

The University of Kansas’ Institute for Policy and Social Research sponsored the annual Kansas Economic Policy Conference on Thursday, the Lawrence Journal-World reported.

The dependence on immigrant labor and foreign trade is especially true in rural western Kansas, where the meatpacking industry depends on immigrant labor and the entire agriculture industry generally depends on access to foreign markets, said Alexandre Skiba, a former economics professor at the university who now teaches at the University of Wyoming.

“Immigrants in rural areas replace the loss of labor due to the decline in native-born population,” he said, talking about the general population shift from rural to urban areas.

Currently, the Trump administration is working on renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA. The administration is also trying to secure funding for a border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and has clamped down on allowing refugees to enter the U.S. from other countries.

“I think we have an overabundance of nationalism,” said Allie Devine, an attorney and former Kansas secretary of agriculture under Republican Gov. Bill Graves in the 1990s. “I think that it is being driven partially factually. Partially, it’s rallying the troops, so to speak.”

Laurie Minard, vice president of human resources at Olathe-based Garmin International, said the current U.S. political climate is hard on her business, which is dependent on access to an international workforce.

“We’re doing all the research and development in Olathe,” Minard said. “Again, we just can’t find enough engineers. We are a global company. We have offices in 30 different countries. We make products in other languages. It’s really part of our DNA. We really look for people and that diversification to help us innovate and make the best products available.”


Information from: Lawrence (Kan.) Journal-World, http://www.ljworld.com

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