ST. CLOUD -- The 6th annual Global Goes Local Conference is going on this week at St. Cloud State University, featuring various guest speakers and events to bring to light perspectives on the immigrant experience in Minnesota.

Dr. Bruce Corrie, an economics professor at Concordia-St. Paul, laid out the positive impact immigrants have on the economy in his lecture titled "What If We Looked at Immigrants Differently?"

"Very often we look at them as a problem but we don't see the multiple roles they play in the economy as workers, entrepreneurs, consumers, and taxpayers," Corrie says. "They're playing a very important role but we do not acknowledge them and we do not give them the respect and the investment that they need."

Corrie says their value is high because the immigrant pool is very diverse -- there are people with low skills and high skills. Corrie cites the first free email service, Hotmail.com, was invented by Sabeer Bhatia, an immigrant.

"At the same time, the people who come as ordinary workers -- like working in food processing -- if they were not there, who would do that job?"

Corrie, who moved to the United States from India in 1982, says the country is facing an issue he calls a "demographic squeeze," -- a growing number of dependents (children and elderly people) coinciding with a declining workforce.

"Because there is a gap between the two, we have a problem," Corrie says.

"The world is aging -- there are very few place with a growing young population, so how can we encourage young people to come here or build up the skills of our existing young people so that they can fill the needs of the workforce?"

Corrie says conferences like this are important at this time with the current political climate creating a lot of cultural and economic anxiety.

"The conversation on the national scene is a negative conversation," Corrie says. "And the conversation today is about opportunity, about assets, and of how we can continue to be the strong, dynamic, innovative America by being open and welcoming -- that's who we are and that's what we will be in the future."