Steve Tobocman has a long history of helping others. Though he will soon no longer serve as executive director for Global Detroit due to a recent move to California with his family, he will continue to support the organization that creates strategies to strengthen the region through immigrant inclusion, a cause that means a lot to him.
Tobocman has also led the creation and growth of the Welcoming Economies Global Network (WE Network) that strengthens, maximizes and sustains the impact of inclusive economic development initiatives in the Rust Belt.
Growing up in Farmington Hills – and in Birmingham and Bloomfield where his father lived following his parents’ divorce – Tobocman would go on to earn a law degree and a master’s degree in public policy from the University of Michigan.
But it was his time at Cranbrook Schools which laid the foundation for his career path. Tobocman still recalls the high school assemblies featuring community leaders like Mother Waddles, who spoke about the importance of public service. “My four years at Cranbrook helped instill in me the confidence to pursue a lot of different things and make an impact by giving back; the highest calling I could make of my career,” he said. “It shaped me.”
In his 25-year career that includes serving as a state representative, his positions have always focused on public service.
“I want to make a difference and I am very fortunate to be able to do that,” said Tobocman, who also credits being raised in a progressive household for building awareness about social justice issues.
His efforts continue through the work of Global Detroit that targets Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and Washtenaw counties. “It’s as relevant for Oakland County as it is for the city of Detroit when you talk about the benefit of immigrants and economic inclusion,” he said.
“It makes a difference for the auto sector, which is relevant to all of these levels that are very important to the economic well being of Birmingham and Bloomfield. Oakland County has much to be proud of with over 1,000 foreign-owned firms. It’s a global center for auto design and technology, with skilled STEM professionals and corporate leaders. Oakland County is quite diverse, and pretty close to the national average of 13 percent with people who come from all over the world.”
There is also growth for working-class immigrants and refugees as well. “They are an important part to the Oakland County economy,” he said.
“The work we’re doing is aligned with the priorities for Oakland County. There are opportunities for working-class residents across the board. The diverse residents of Oakland County can identify with the fact that America is a welcoming place. People fleeing persecution like Jews, Iraqi Christians and Muslims came here where people can be free and pursue the American dream.”
Tobocman says they are always trying to connect with employers who have workforce shortages to help fill needed positions. They also help immigrants launch startups and assist with growth and expansion for their existing businesses.
His work hits close to home. “My family came to America seeking freedom and opportunities and they found incredible opportunities in Detroit. It’s the same today with refugees fleeing persecution,” said Tobocman.
“Immigrants enrich the lives of all of us and our community. In the auto industry, immigration creates huge growth. People come to Detroit from all over the world with the same ideals and the same basic principles – to build a Michigan and a region that is second to none.”
Story: Jeanine Matlow