For Franklin County Commissioner Kevin L. Boyce, the numbers tell an important story.

Speaking at the second annual New American Advocacy Forum, Boyce said the immigrant and refugee population in central Ohio contributes $1.6 billion to the local economy every year.

"What that says is they are part of the community," Boyce told the dozens of representatives from immigrant and refugee resettlement and assistance organizations at the May 10 event at the Columbus Athenaeum.

He said that between 2000 and 2014, nearly half of all refugees and immigrants arriving in Ohio settled in Franklin County.

"That says we are a place that is welcoming," Boyce said.

City Councilwoman Elizabeth Brown, another of the speakers, took a different approach to the issue of how accepting people are of those coming from other countries.

"This conversation is a moral one in so many ways," she said. "Do we stand for the opportunity for everyone to have a better life?"

The event was hosted by the New American Advisory Council, a coalition of city and county officials along with organizations, agencies, individuals and neighborhood groups. Its purpose, organizers said, was to "raise awareness and promote integration through community engagement."

"This, I think, is the very beginning of a conversation that is going to help us enrich central Ohio," said Boyce, who served as emcee for the forum.

"The way that immigrants and refugees are being treated across the country is, on a personal level, troubling for me," said Brown, who said one set of rules was in place for newcomers to the United States under President Barack Obama but a new set of rules exists under President Donald Trump.

"I know that a lot of you in this room feel the same way personally," she said.

Trump's wife, Melania, 47, was born in Slovenia and became a permanent resident of the United States in 2001. She became a U.S. citizen in 2006.

Brown concluded her comments by quoting from a poem by Langston Hughes:

"O, yes,

"I say it plain,

"America never was America to me,

"And yet I swear this oath --

"America will be!"

"What he's telling us is what is great about our country is what we aspire to be," Brown said.

Frederic Bentley, president and chief executive officer of COSI, was keynote speaker for the forum. He spoke of growing up in Canada -- the son of a father from Trinidad and a mother who was born in Barbados -- and of how he developed his love of science by inadvertently blowing up a hand-held game when he sought to bypass the batteries and hook the device to a direct current.

"Ladies and gentlemen, the best 10 seconds of my life," he said. "That got me hooked on science ever since."

Cindy Gaillard, director of local content for WOSU, served as moderator for a panel discussion on the economic impact of New Americans.

"If you're an immigrant or refugee, keep talking; keep telling your story," she said.

kparks@thisweeknews.com

@KevinParksTW1