Flyover Companies are Teaching Immigrants the Language of Success


Cambria and Taziki’s Mediterranean Cafes are among smaller companies in Flyover Country that have joined some of our largest corporate citizens, including Walmart and Target, in recognizing a truth that is becoming increasingly important to our economy: The more that legal immigrants can be assimilated by learning English, the more valuable they will be as employees – and the more fulfilled as Americans.

All of these companies have programs that teach English as a second language to attract, retain and develop entry-level employees. Cambria, a manufacturer of quartz countertops in Le Sueur, Minnesota, spends $400,000 to $500,000 a year for its English program, staffed by four teachers, in a program CEO Marty Davis began several years ago.

And Birmingham, Alabama-based Taziki’s has been working with an AI-based language-learning platform to teach English as a benefit and create stickiness with workers in an industry that arguably is being hit harder by pandemic labor dislocation than any other.

“We invest in language learning for our employees because it is the right thing to do – and because it results in dedicated, loyal employees who are excellent at their jobs,” Dan Simpson, Taziki’s CEO, told me.

The Immigrant Tradition

Davis told me Cambria is “investing in these people. We want them to grow. First-generation immigrant labor has been the foundation of U.S. manufacturing for a hundred years: Irish, Germans, Polish, Hispanics. This is how first-generation immigrants have climbed the ladder of capitalism.”

About one-third of Cambria’s 900 employees in Le Sueur are Hispanics from local families who are “rooted in our community and churches and schools,” Davis said. The company uses E-Verify to try to ensure they’re U.S. citizens.

The company embraced this cohort of the workforce, Davis said, with celebrations of Hispanic cultural holidays at the plant, for example. But most of these workers were “stuck in cleaning jobs and doing work where communications weren’t critical, other than for safety,” Davis said. “We didn’t like that. We didn’t like seeing that the same guy was cleaning part of the plant for four years.”

Cambria determined that helping these employees learn English would be the best way to unlock their potential for themselves and the company.

“Just putting up a bunch of signs in Spanish around the factory wasn’t going to cut it for me,” Davis said. “That’s not fair to a Hispanic employee. You need to give them an opportunity. What happens when they leave here? We felt like we had an environment that was suppressing their growth and that we should provide them with opportunity.

A Path to Promotion

“We got many of them in a room and said, ‘We’re going to teach you English. It’s the only way you’re going to grow into become a manager, a technologist, an engineer – or even my job,’” Davis said. “They embraced it.”

Thirty-seven Cambria employees have completed the program – equivalence in eighth-grade English – and there are about 110 total participants at a time. “Many of them are line operators, supervisor and managers now, so this has proven to be successful for them and us,” Davis said.

“We need growth labor who can expand their impact in our company. If you don’t help these people grow and allow them to sit in stagnant jobs, you lose them. Most people like to evolve.”

Read the rest of this piece at Flyover Coalition.

Dale Buss is founder and executive director of The Flyover Coalition, a not-for-profit organization aimed at helping revitalize and promote the economy, companies and people of the region between the Appalachians and Rockies, the Gulf Coast and the Great Lakes. He is a long-time author, journalist, and magazine and newspaper editor, and contributor to Chief Executive, Forbes, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and many other publications. Buss is a Wisconsin native who lives in Michigan and has also lived in Texas, Pennsylvania and Florida.

Photo: courtesy Flyover Coalition

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Here's another outfit

That is doing language work with immigrants in Nevada: