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  • Writer's pictureAndy Tarsy

MBIC & Bristol Chamber Gather Leaders to Protect the Region's Global Workforce and Vital Businesses

Updated: Mar 8, 2019

The manufacturing floor - and the talent that makes it work - at Matouk, Inc. in Fall River

The Massachusetts Business Immigration Coalition held a forum with the Bristol County Chamber (Fall River) and the South Area Chamber (New Bedford). Hosted by Matouk CEO George Matouk in his company’s HQ, 50 business and civic leaders and staff representing Congressmen Joe Kennedy and Bill Keating discussed policy ideas for continuing to successfully tap a global talent market.

Participants Reflected a Rich Ecosystem

Representatives from numerous companies that employ hundreds of workers each, many of which are proud to report they have a large percentage of foreign born or second generation immigrant individuals represented among their workforce. Fine linens, chair cushions, bread, banking, transportation, prepared foods, fisheries, toys, entrepreneurship accelerators, hotels and hospitality and many other industries were represented.

Speakers Representing an Ecosystem of Businesses

Speakers included Bristol Community College President Karen Douglas, Bristol Chamber President Mike O’Sullivan, and Bristol Chamber board chair Brian LeCompte. LeCompte is also an owner-executive with Gold Medal Bakery, a bread and baked goods maker with 600 employees in 16 states, which was founded 100 years ago by an immigrant from Quebec. Gold Medal currently makes bread the Whole Foods 365 brand.

Matouk described that his family-owned company was founded by his grandfather, an immigrant from Damascus in 1929 and has succeeded due to the skilled work by immigrants. He shared his view of the importance for business to influence policy by making the case to government officials about the value of immigrant workers and what they need to succeed so that they can flourish and businesses can keep adding jobs.

Bristol Community College President Laura Douglas urged support for immigrant access to higher ed. We need immigrant workers and access to education and training for them to succeed. A key barrier is that immigrants living in Massachusetts without documents do not get access to the in-state tuition rate offered to other residents. In addition, President Douglas noted a new industry launching in this region which will need skilled workers: offshore wind. She also noted that access to healthcare professions is severely limited because of background checks and licensing requirements that screen out those without proper documentation of their status. DREAMERS are already our valedictorians and student leaders – and we want them to stay and invest and thrive here, Douglas urged. She stressed the past and present dependence of the region and the entire nation on a global pool of talent.

Bristol Community College President Laura Douglas, and executives from MBIC member Klear Vu Home Textiles

Tom Perreira of MassHire, the Massachusetts workforce training agency spoke, and underscored barriers to the immigrant workforce: transportation, child care, English language classes, transfer of licensing and credentials.

MIRA Coalition Executive Director Eva Millona who is also Co-Chair of the MBIC provided an overview of the state of affairs in immigration policy and policy issues that directly affect foreign born talent in Massachusetts.

In a wide-ranging discussion, participants then raised the following topics and issues:

- Educating employers about how to assist and support immigrant workers

- Expanding Access to English language training

- Creating a path to green card status for undocumented workers

- Ensuring workplace safety

- Avoiding any concern that would cause a worker not to call 911 in an emergency

- Creating transit options to be sure that workers can get to work safely, conveniently

In short – there was enthusiasm for the notion that business should sit down with government and work out solutions to real problems. There was a discussion of a range of policy issues and there was a desire for effective follow-up. That's where the MBIC comes in. In the days and months ahead, we will be organizing the business communities across the Commonwealth so that the connection of immigration and immigrant issues to the overall health of the economy and a wide range of businesses is well understood.

If you or your company would like information about being part of the Massachusetts Business Immigration Coalition please reach out today.

Andy Tarsy is a strategic advisor to the MBIC.

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