Portland’s population would have dropped since 2000 without immigrants according to this report

Marian Abu, a Somali immigrant and an owner of the Jazeera Market on Congress Street in Portland. (BDN photo by Kirsten Sylvain)

Marian Abu, a Somali immigrant and an owner of the Jazeera Market on Congress Street in Portland. (BDN photo by Kirsten Sylvain)

A lot has been made in recent years of how many national accolades and plaudits Portland has received. It regularly receives attention from national publications about its high quality of life, and is widely perceived as a city on the upswing.

What may surprise some people, though, is how significant a role in that momentum immigrants have played.

In terms of population growth, anyway, that role is “All of it.”

Coastal Enterprises Inc., a nonprofit specializing in economic development, is due to release a new report on the state’s looming workforce shortage and how immigrants can help overcome it.

In its research, CEI found that Portland’s immigrant population has about doubled in size to nearly 10,000 people since 2000.

“This increase resulted in 3 percent population growth for the city overall, while the native-born population decreased over the same period,” the report reads, in part.

So if you’re doing the math, Portland has grown from a population of about 64,000 people in 2000 to a population of about 66,000 people today.

The city’s immigrant population has grown by between 4,000 and 5,000 people over that time, meaning that population is responsible for overcoming what would otherwise have been a 2,000-3,000 population drop and turning it into a 2,000-person gain.

Without a steady influx of new Mainers to Portland over the last decade and a half, the city so frequently now lauded as a shining example of livability and recognized as the most powerful economic engine in Maine would actually be withering somewhat.

[MORE: Strimling wants an Office of New Americans in Portland. Here’s how immigrants have helped other cities grow]

Instead of talking about how Portland is on the upswing, we’d be talking about a second straight decade of population decline and why the city has its fewest residents since the Census of 1910.

That’s a big difference.

Foreign-born residents now represent 15 percent of the Portland population, and are credited in the CEI report as being a primary driver behind the city’s increased diversity. Forty-two percent of Portland’s public school students are non-white, and about half of the city’s children under the age of 5 are.

While it’s tailed off in recent years, the native-born population statewide has grown overall by 4 percent since 2000, in comparison. Still, the foreign-born population in Maine has outpaced that native-born growth, increasing by 23 percent over the same time period.

CEI’s report calls for the creation of a state-level Office of New Americans to help immigrants overcome language and cultural barriers to fulfilling their professional potential, something Mayor Ethan Strimling and the City Council have begun pursuing in Portland.

Seth Koenig

About Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.