By Steve Lannen | Kentucky HERALD-LEADER
Mayor Teresa Isaac last night called the development of Lexington’s Hispanic labor pool “one of the most important issues for the future of this community” as she accepted a report that recommends several initiatives regarding the growing population.
The report’s cover features the eye-popping figure that Fayette County’s Hispanic community increased 235 percent between 1990 and 2000.
This growth is occurring at the same time the overall state’s population is getting older and there are fewer young people to replace them, suggesting that the city’s and region’s economies will depend even more on immigrants and their offspring.
“I think this is progressive and forward-thinking, and our Hispanic community in Lexington right now are true economic citizens, and our economy is dependent upon them right now,” Isaac said.
The Mayor’s Task Force for Hispanic Workforce Development’s 21-page report offers several suggestions, from providing more English as a second language classes and worker training classes to supporting federal legislation that would allow for immigrants who may have entered or remained in the U.S. illegally to earn the right to eventually become citizens.
Other recommendations are simpler, such as offering job descriptions in both English and Spanish and posting signs in public places in both languages, said Alayne White, a task force co-chair and LFUCG social services commissioner.
“It’s very easy to address this. It’s not rocket science. We just have to step up and do it,” White said.
The report also talks about the need to collect better data about Lexington’s Hispanic population and to share more information with them.
“Go into hotels, go into restaurants and go to the horse farms, and it’s very evident the need for getting better information out and helping the work force,” said Jim Kerley, a task force co-chair and Bluegrass Community and Technical College president.
The report’s tone looks toward the future, when today’s Hispanic children will be working.
“If we want a productive, effective society and work force, we need to give opportunities for those children to continue education and to become legal citizens. It’s not their fault they’re here,” said Denise Munizaga, a former foreign languages and ESL director for the Fayette Schools.
This is the second time a mayor’s task force has studied issues related to Lexington’s Hispanic population. In 1998, a similar task force made several recommendations to then-Mayor Pam Miller, including hiring a coordinator to spearhead LFUCG’s efforts in the Hispanic community.
That position has now been vacant for more than two years. However, Alayne White said last night that Urban County Council members approved funding for a new multicultural coordinator position earlier this week. Someone could be hired by the end of February, she said.
Isaac said she would meet with Councilman Richard Moloney and the city’s economic development director, Julian Beard, to see what recommendations could be implemented. She also will discuss the report with Fayette Schools Superintendent Stu Silberman.