BISMARCK, N.D. (KXNET) — Mr. Rogers once asked the question, “Won’t you be my neighbor?”

And here in Bismarck, the city recently welcomed some newcomers to our neighborhood.

This weekend, a multicultural welcome event was held at the First Western Bank Patio. Dawn Kopp, CEO of the Downtowners Association says that the turnout for the event was successful.

“We have invited community members across the community to join us and to focus on welcoming our new neighbors. So, whether people are here from a different country for work or because of strife in their homeland, we want to create an event to help welcome them. And hopefully, create a softer landing once they move to Bismarck,” said Dawn Kopp.

According to the American Immigration Council, 1 in 20 North Dakota immigrants is an immigrant from a foreign country. Looking at the most recent census, according to the migration policy institute, North Dakota had the largest increase nationwide in immigration.

In terms of growth, North Dakota had an increase in growth of immigration of 103%.

One of those immigrants is Mirabela Punga, owner of Little Odessa here in Bismarck. Punga has been a resident of North Dakota since 2012 and of Bismarck since 2019.

“We established here, first time when we came to America was North Dakota. And then over the years, we visited other states and thinking to replace. But every time we go somewhere, we realized this is the best place to be. The people are very nice, and it’s the best place,” says Mirabela Punga.

The general consensus from attendees was that North Dakota has great opportunities for those looking to come to America. Another remark that was resounding among those spoken with was the friendliness North Dakota provides. One of those attendees was Johoel Gallego, who said the people is what makes North Dakota unique.

“I’m from the Philippines and came to Bismarck about 10 years ago. And I know sometimes the weather is unforgiving, but there’s no warmer place in my experience. I’ve been to the Middle East. I spent eight and half years in Iraq supporting the U.S. military. Been to Turkey. Been everywhere, but just like I said, North Dakota has some unforgiving weather, but this is the warmest place I’ve ever been: people-wise,” says Johoel Gallego.

North Dakota has an estimated 40,000 open jobs. The need for newcomers to bring skills and talent to our state is crucial. Some local businesses that currently employ immigrants include the refinery, Cloverdale Meats, and Sanford Health.

Overall, we need to work as a community to help welcome our new neighbors. A helping hand, a kind word, or even a simple hello can be the start of a great relationship. What do you say Bismarck? Won’t you be their neighbor?