Chaldeans in Michigan

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Updated survey shares new data about the community in Metropolitan Detroit

By Vanessa Denha Garmo

It’s been about 10 years since the Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce first conducted a study of Chaldeans in Metropolitan Detroit. They have since wanted to examine changes in the Chaldean community so, along with the Chaldean Community Foundation, the chamber worked with the University of Michigan-Dearborn and Kurt R. Metzger and Associates to conduct a new survey. 

In late 2016 and early 2017, surveys were sent to 1,772 random households who were members of one of six Chaldean churches within the Chaldean Diocese of Saint Thomas the Apostle of Detroit. The response rate was 13 percent and all 226 surveys used in this analysis indicated that at least one member of the household was of Chaldean ancestry. 

The survey collected basic demographics of people in the household, including age, gender  education, country of birth, and employment status. Questions also asked about the household income, ownership of businesses, and investments by the household.

“The results of the Chaldean Survey are an important tool in helping educate people on the contributions Chaldeans are making to this region,” said Martin Manna, president and CEO. “It also provides valuable data on important health related trends in our community which will be used to develop future programming at the Chaldean Community Foundation.” 

A team at the University of Michigan Dearborn collected the data and analyzed it. “The University of Michigan Dearborn has a metropolitan vision,” said Professor Timothy Davis, director of iLabs College of Business at the University of Michigan-Dearborn “We want to engage our faculty and students with organizations throughout Michigan.  We have worked with the Chaldean and Jewish communities in the past on the Connecting Cultures initiative and we want to continue our involvement in meaningful projects”

“While the issues of immigration and diversity have been extremely important for years, recent national and local discussions have made it more so now,” said Metzger. “Our state and region are dependent on immigration to grow our population, due to Stagnant birth numbers, increasing deaths due to an aging population, and outmigration to other areas of the country.”

Metzger served as a consultant to the survey team and the demographic expert. “I also had history with the community. The Chaldean community is a very important component of our region, both by virtue of its increasing size, as well as its economic strength,” he noted.  “The more we all know about the community, through its telling its own story, the more others will understand what Chaldeans bring to the table.”

As indicated in the report, research has shown that the diversity of people plays a powerful role in community growth. It has also been found that diversity is a basic driver of regional growth. Local research shows immigrants in Michigan are well-educated and entrepreneurial, and they are playing a large role in the economic growth of the region. Metro Detroit’s Chaldean community has been found to have an annual economic impact of $10.7 billion. 

The report details research on Metro Detroit’s Chaldean, Assyrian, and Syriac community who are broadly described as Chaldean in the document. The Chaldean population in Metropolitan Detroit is estimated to be between 155,000 and 160,000.

“Information we gathered reaffirms things what the foundation has seen before in that Chaldeans are a very entrepreneurial community here in Southeast Michigan” said Davis. “We learned a bit more in the clustering part that was a new analysis. We are able to understand what these households look like. There are groups of younger families starting out that are entrepreneurial. There are older generations that are acculturated. Regardless, the entrepreneurial nature was pretty consistent.” 

U of M revised the survey from 2008 from the way it looked and felt. They aimed to target the questions to learning about households and what they are doing in creating businesses and investing in their own community businesses and generating economic activity. “We helped build the survey instrument,” said Davis. “We supported the foundation as they mailed out the survey and collected them. We analyzed the information and wrote the report.” 

The Chaldean Foundation was a sponsored research partner. It was not a survey U of M anticipates to use at the current time for academic use, however, they find the data valuable. It was a project to support the Chaldean Foundation. 

“For us its data,” said Davis. “We try to be as neutral as possible when we look at the data. What was nice to see was the diversity of the households of those that responded. The community is filled of different generations building their paths to be part of Michigan’s business community and they have distinct things that make them Chaldean.” 

Metzger said that data would be of interest to the state at large, although the survey results were not totally unexpected.  “I was not surprised, but I think the overall numbers and the high degree of business ownership, coupled with the geographic areas of Chaldean concentration, will be enlightening to the greater public,” he noted. “The general public should be interested in this information because it helps to describe the strength that diversity brings.  The Chaldean community is one of the largest ethnic groups in the region (often confused with Muslim/Arab) and needs to make their case.”

The research team led by Professor Davis did a pretest of the survey at Mother of God Church in Southfield by posing the questions to people one-one-one to see if the questions are appropriate for the survey. “It allowed me to get to know the community more.” said Davis. “I got to bring an international student with us and he found the experience very interesting.” 

Both recent immigrants as well as 2nd and 3rd generations are entrepreneurial but the difference lies in the types of business they own such as a party store or restaurant compared to people who have engineering or other professional businesses. 

“It was a parallel with the building community’s initiative where you saw the Jewish community a generation ahead of the Chaldeans,” said Davis. “These are the kind of projects we really love to do. A public university engaging our students with community partners to help the students learn and to help our community partners learn as well help our partners further their own efforts is important to us.”

“Every community needs to tell its own story,” said Metzger. “This is the only way the larger community can get the real facts.”