Puerto Rico: Migrant Labor’s Newest Source

Charles Ashby, Pueblo (Colorado) Chieftain, August 13, 2007

Glenwood Springs entrepreneur Johnny Gonzalez has a simple solution to his area’s labor shortage.

Instead of relying on immigrant workers from Latin American countries that used to come to the Roaring Fork Valley before the state enacted tougher undocumented worker laws, Gonzalez has found another—legal—source of labor: Puerto Rico.

Spurred by former state Rep. Gregg Rippy, R-Glenwood Springs, Gonzalez has started a new employment company that’s bringing Puerto Rican workers to Colorado.

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Like farms and towns in Southern Colorado, communities from Aspen to Basalt to Glenwood Springs have seen a dramatic decline in immigrant and migrant workers coming to the state.

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So Gonzalez decided the best way to help combat the labor shortage was to go to his home island where residents already are American citizens. He founded an employment firm called RicoManPower to do it.

The program hasn’t been all wine and roses. Since he began bringing people in this year, some have returned to Puerto Rico. Some became homesick and others had difficulty acclimating to the region culturally, Gonzales said.

Of the 56 people Gonzalez and Rippy helped to bring to Colorado, roughly half remain on the job.

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Rippy, who runs Grand River Construction Co. in the valley, hired two truck drivers from Puerto Rico, but only one has remained with him. He said the whole idea makes perfect sense.

It not only helps solve his region’s labor woes, but brings needed jobs to Puerto Ricans who have none, he said. The island’s unemployment rate last month was 11.1 percent, nearly triple what it is in Colorado.

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Rippy said he still plans to hire more Puerto Ricans as soon as Gonzalez can locate more drivers for him.

To do that, Gonzalez has hired his employment firm’s first employee: Johnny Rodriquez, a Puerto Rico native who will be screening potential workers and helping them get to Colorado.

Hiring and getting them to Colorado is the easy part, Gonzalez said, though the two men plan to make potential workers better aware of the culture shock they’re about to face.

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Although Gonzalez said he started the endeavor solely as a way to help his own community, he’s interested in expanding his business into other fields, and perhaps even other areas of the state such as Pueblo.

He’s already working to bring medical people, law enforcement and other skilled and trained Puerto Ricans to Colorado.

He and Rodriquez recently signed a contract with the Roaring Fork Transit Authority to hire 40 new bus drivers, many of whom will come from Puerto Rico.

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