Lexington residents born outside the United States will have a new place to network, get services and learn more about what Lexington has to offer.
On Friday, the city held a grand opening for Global Lex, the city's first international center, on Versailles Road.
"The global environment is thriving here in Lexington. Nearly 20 percent of our residents come from other countries," Mayor Jim Gray said Friday during a grand opening ceremony attended by several hundred people.
"Global Lex will help meet the needs of our diverse community with multilingual services, citizenship classes, driver's education and public safety classes."
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There appears to be great demand for those services.
Isabel Taylor, the city's multicultural affairs coordinator, said 365 people came to the center in July — before it was officially open.
The center will be a one-stop shop for the city's international residents, Taylor said. For example, the center recently held a driver-education class in French. Organizers expected 10 to 12 people to attend. Instead, 17 attended and the class was conducted in five languages. All but one took the driver-education test in English and passed, Taylor said.
Using both information from Fayette County schools and area hospitals, Taylor estimated that more than 131 languages are spoken in Fayette County.
Taylor, who has held the position of multicultural affairs coordinator for nearly a decade, said she has seen the city's international population explode in the past 10 years. "We've seen a 240 percent increase," Taylor said.
And people are moving to Lexington from all over the world.
Global Lex's new lobby is adorned with art from foreign-born residents who live in Lexington. Some of the countries represented include the Republic of Congo, Sweden, Taiwan and Ireland.
In addition to providing citizenship information and driver's education, Global Lex will probably be a small business incubator. Research shows that immigrants are twice as likely as other residents to start small businesses. Small businesses are the city's economic engine, Taylor said. But to start a business, people need to know about employment law, taxes, bank loans and other issues, Taylor said.
Councilwoman Peggy Henson, whose district includes the new Global Lex office and the diverse Versailles Road corridor, said the center will also provide more than services — it will make international residents feel more welcome.
"The opening of Global Lex is an opportunity for Lexington to boost networking and outreach that will break down barriers to cultural and economic growth," Henson said Friday.
Vice Mayor Steve Kay said the opening of the center meant a lot to him. Kay grew up in a mill town in Massachusetts with a large and vibrant immigrant population. Moreover, he is the son of an immigrant. His father and grandparents immigrated from Russia to the United States in 1923.
"I understand what immigrants bring to a community," Kay said.