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Buildings inside a proposed Business Improvement District are seen on Tuesday, April 16, 2019, in Chattanooga, Tenn. The proposed district would encompass downtown Chattanooga from the Riverfront to 11th Street and from U.S. Highway 27 to different areas bordered by Cherry Street, Lindsay Street and Georgia Avenue.

Stuart and Roberta Bostock first came to Chattanooga from their native Cayman Islands home to send their son, and later their daughter, to Baylor School.

But the Caribbean couple quickly fell in love with Tennessee and, when they decided to launch their own business three years ago to serve North America with a new mobile safety service, they did so in Chattanooga.

"Chattanooga has been so welcoming to my family and I, and although every new business has its challenges, the business environment here has been incredibly helpful and supportive," said Bostock, the president of Security Centres International (USA) Inc. "Chattanooga has easy access to big city resources with the charm and hospitality of a small city. As visitors in your country, we can't think of anywhere else we would like to be."

The Bostocks are among a growing number of foreign-born residents who have migrated to Chattanooga and helped make the Scenic City the top major U.S. city when measuring the growth rate of its foreign-born population. In the city of Chattanooga, foreign-born population jumped by more than 68% from 7,573 in 2013 to 12,786 in 2017, according to new analysis of census data by Point2Homes, an online real estate marketing firm.

Chattanooga's share of foreign-born residents is still only about half of the national rate and less than one-fourth the rate in nearby Dalton, but the percentage growth in foreign-born residents was still faster in Chattanooga than any other major U.S. city.

In 2017, the most recent year for which such figures are available, about 7.1% — or one of every 14 residents in Chattanooga — were born outside of the United States. Nationwide, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates 13.7%, or one of every seven U.S. residents, is foreign born.

In the city of Dalton, the Census Bureau estimates 29.3% of its residents are foreign born.

Fastest growing foreign-born populations

The growth rate in the share of foreign-born residents between 2013 and 2017 was the biggest in:

1. Chattanooga: 68%

2. Frisco, Texas: 54%

3. McKinney, Texas: 52%

4. Orlando, Florida: 45%

5. Rochester, New York: 40%

Source: Point2Homes study of “America’s Most Dynamic Cities” from review of 2013 and 2017 American Community Survey data from the U.S. Bureau of Census for U.S. cities.

Tennessee has led the nation in direct foreign investment, and with a lower jobless rate than most of the country, many immigrants, foreign workers and first-generation Americans are being drawn to Chattanooga.

Charles Wood, vice president of economic development at the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce, said Chattanooga seeks to recruit business and talent from around the globe and welcome pepole and businesses from other countries. Southeast Tennessee has attracted major European investments from Volkswagen, Wacker Chemie, BASF, Gestamp and Sanofi and Asian businesses such as Komatsu, Yanfeng, Denso Manufacturing and Nippon Paint.

"We've seen consistent growth in foreign direct investment over the past decade, with an influx of more than $7 billion from around the globe — Germany, France, Spain, Belgium, China, India, Norway and other countries," Wood said. "By choosing Chattanooga, these companies draw more diversity to our region in addition to jobs that benefit our entire community."

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke said "cities run on talent, now more than ever" so workers are needed from all over.

"I'm encouraged to see evidence that people want to relocate to our community so that they can utilize their skills and abilities in ways that will benefit everyone in Chattanooga," he said.

But groups concerned about growing number of immigrants in the United States, especially those entering the country illegally, were less enthused by the trends.

Matthew Tragesser, a spokesperson for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said immigration within proper limits is beneficial but mass immigration into a community can be costly.

Hamilton County schools have students who speak 85 different languages and 3,900 who qualify to receive English as a second language training, most of them in Spanish.

"There are objective costs to educating kids in more than 85 different languages and there are negative effects on wages that also need to be considered," he said. "Mass immigration has proven to depress wages and add fiscal costs to Americans, especially in English language curriculums."

Noting that wages in Chattanooga average 16% below the U.S. average and Tennessee spends more than $345 million annually on Limited English Proficiency programs, Tragresser said the state "should examine whether its rapid absorption of foreign-born workers is sensible for its economy."

FAIR estimates that Tennessee has more than 135,000 immigrants who entered the country illegally, costing Tennesseans roughly $600 million annually.

But most of the foreign-born residents are legal residents or on work visas or permit. Those who work with foreign-born residents say that many are starting their own businesses, hiring workers or otherwise contributing to the local economy.

"Because of the impact of the business ecosystem in Chattanooga, Latinx individuals establishing businesses here have created job opportunities and diverse entrepreneurial initiatives with an international culture dynamic," said Angela Garcia, director of business development at La Paz in Chattanooga. "Latinx business owners have contributed greatly to the awareness that has grown on how we do business, as well as helped increase buying power and economic mobility for minorities."

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 757-6340

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