Cedar Rapids, Iowa City Business Leaders Sign onto Compact for Federal Immigration Reform

Members of the Cedar Rapids-Iowa City business and scholastic communities signed on to a compact calling for “smart” immigration policies at the state and federal levels. They joined a list of 40 participants from communities like Ames, Des Moines, Dubuque, Muscatine, Marshalltown, Mason City and the Quad Cities.

“In the absence of federal progress, there are only a limited amount of things partners (like cities, counties and states) can do to affect immigration policies,” said Doug Neumann, executive director of the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance. “I do think it is a specific initiative of this community to say there has to be a federal solution. We cannot do this alone.”

The compact asks lawmakers to pursue immigration policy changes that meet the needs of labor markets, provide a permanent solution to undocumented Iowans and secure the southern border.

Tom Hughes, the president of Hughes Nursery & Landscaping, said many of the employees he hires form the private sector are on H-2B Temporary Non-agricultural Worker visas. The nation only issues 66,000 H-2B visas per fiscal year. Hughes said that in his experience the demand for workers exhausts the supply.

“It is so critical for our industry to have immigrants come on as guest workers,” Hughes said. “The demand is there; the need is huge. … It becomes a real challenge for local employers.”

Kyle Gingrich, the vice president of operations from Apache, Inc., said that unpredictability in the immigrant labor pool leads to problems for business owners.

“I mean if you look at it, it is great for wages, but we are hit on training costs,” Gingrich said.

For Gingrich, the cost of training up and losing an employee at Apache, Inc., is significant. He said he has 160 employees locally and 300 across the country. He referenced needing to fill 30 position at one time. 

“Readily available workers are extremely hard to come by with our low employment rate,” Gingrich said. “It really puts a strain on businesses.”

By Zachary Oren Smith for IOWA CITY PRESS CITIZEN

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