What does a welcoming city look like?

To many, immigration and the status of refugees can seem like abstract and polarizing issues that continue to hopelessly divide Washington and the nation. But to so many others, it’s a deeply personal topic with consequences that reverberate in communities across the country.

From the local economy to the cultural identity of a place, immigrants dramatically affect and are affected by the cities and counties they reside in. From 2000 to 2013, all the net growth in Main Street business nationally can be attributed to immigrants1. These businesses, from coffee shops to grocery stores, act as key assets and anchors within neighborhoods. Immigrants are also becoming homeowners faster than the U.S.-born population, contributing $3.7 trillion to housing markets nationwide2. Immigrants play a large role in key local industries, including construction, hospitality, and health care. In so many ways, immigrants are laying down roots and, in doing so, becoming an essential part of the communities they call home.

As immigrants arrive and begin to carve out new lives in the U.S., we felt like Wonk Wednesday was an ideal platform to discuss how cities can redefine the narrative taking place on cable news or in political talking points. That’s why we’re going beyond the national dialogue. This coming Wednesday, we are hosting three individuals that will help us dive deeper into how immigrants and refugees have shaped our communities.

While limiting cooperation between local law enforcement and federal immigration officials is a hot topic — collectively, over 600 municipalities, counties and states have done so3 — this isn’t the only way that communities are engaging with their immigrant and refugee residents to create a more welcoming and inclusive front door to the nation. Cities such as Nashville and Philadelphia have worked hard to assure that city services are available to all its residents by actively helping immigrants who aspire to become U.S. citizens and conducting workshops to teach leaders from immigrant communities how to navigate local government.

Although national immigration policy continues to be a controversial wedge issue, we aim to break through that noise by talking with immigrants and refugees in our own cities — people we call neighbors, colleagues and friends.

We hope to see you there.

Event Details

On June 28 at 5:30 p.m., Metro Ideas Project will hold a panel discussion with Welcoming America and Coming to America: The Story of Us to discuss how policymakers, community leaders and residents can work together to build more welcoming and inclusive communities. We will also hear the personal stories of two immigrants who call Chattanooga home.

This event will be held June 28 at 5:30 p.m. in our Highland Park office (1216 E. Main St.). As always, beer, wine, coffee and snacks will be on hand to keep the conversation going. This event is free and open to the public.

(Beer and wine provided for individuals ages 21+.)

Click here to RSVP.

Panelists for this event are:

Anton Demenchuk, president and CEO of Cresco Group

Anton Demenchuk, originally from Ukraine, is the president and CEO of Cresco Group, the company he founded in 2012. While in Ukraine, Anton received his bachelor’s in business administration, as well as degrees in macroeconomic analysis and forecasting. He also taught macroeconomics as a part of the Macroeconomic Research Institute. In 2010 at the age of 21, Anton moved to the United States and received his MBA from Southern Adventist University. From 2015 to 2017, Anton served as the president of the International Business Council of the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce, and he founded the Chattanooga Marketing Clinic in 2016. Anton and his wife, Christina, who is originally from the Dominican Republic, now consider themselves Chattanoogans.

Isha Lee, chief network officer at Welcoming America

Isha Lee is a nonprofit practitioner fluent in external affairs, government relations and organizational development. She has over 10 years of experience at national and local organizations. Her recent roles include chief of staff for the national communication team at Teach for America and a founding staff person at the Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta. She is an alumna of Davidson College, where she majored in political science, and Goddard College, where she received an M.A. in sustainable business and community. Isha lives in Decatur, Georgia, with her family.

Daniela Peterson, founder of Coming to America: The Story of Us and community engagement specialist at Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprise

Daniela’s homeland is the most southern part of South America, Chile. She grew up in the driest desert in the world, “El Desierto de Atacama” (the Atacama Desert). From a family of five, she is the eldest of her two brothers. This Chilean social worker now works for the Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprise (CNE) as a bilingual community engagement specialist, after having founded Coming to America: The Story of Us, a storytelling collective focused on the stories of immigrants and refugees in Chattanooga.


  1. Kallick, David Dyssegaard, Kate Brick, Steven McCutcheon Rubio, Susan Segal, Richard Andre, Zachary Bleckner. 2015. “Bringing Vitality to Main Street: How Immigrant Small Businesses Help Local Economies Grow.” Americas Society/Council of the Americas. 

  2. Gopal, Prashant. 2017. “Why Trump’s Immigration Crackdown Could Sink U.S. Home Prices.” Bloomberg. 

  3. Graber, Lena, Nikki Marquez. 2016. “Searching for Sanctuary: An Analysis of America’s Counties & Their Voluntary Assistance with Deportations.” Washington: Immigrant Legal Resource Center. 

Joda Thongnopnua

Executive director

Joda Thongnopnua has a background in communications and advertising. He worked with major retail brands, international non-governmental organizations, and startups prior to founding the Metro Ideas Project in 2016.

Julia Bursch

Project manager

Julia Bursch runs operations and project management for Metro Ideas Project. She has a background in tech startups, previously working for Bellhops, a nationally recognized and rapidly growing moving startup headquartered in Chattanooga, Tennessee.