Sioux Falls Business Seeks Out Immigrant Workers
Grand Prairie Foods Finds Success
All the rumblings out of Washington DC, about building a wall and banning certain people from entering the country has one Sioux Falls couple concerned. Kurt and Valerie Loudenback own a food processing company that sends products all over the country and they hire people from all over the world. Immigrants make up the vast majority of the workforce at Grand Prairie foods. Instead of fearing what makes people different, they have embraced it. They started Grand Prairie Foods about 12 years ago. Stay in a hotel or shop at a convenience store anywhere in the country and you might be buying their sandwiches.
During a tour of the “ready to eat” portion of the plant, we follow a strict protocol from washing our hands to wearing plastic covers over our shoes. Kurt shows us workers baking, cooling and packaging calzones. One of the many products they make at the Sioux Falls plant. During out tour Kurt got a phone call from his safety team. They pointed out that KDLT photographer Adam Huntimer should be wearing a hair net over his baseball cap not underneath it. We quickly rectified the situation. Out on the production line or in the office, Kurt is a hands on CEO. Stopping and talking with workers and always referring to them by their first names. It is the same for Valerie, who handles human resources. The Loudenback’s say the plant’s payroll supports 175 families. Looking for a dependable workforce, they found it among South Dakota’s newest residents. Valerie named off a few of the countries their workers come from.
“We have Sudan; we have Nepal, Bhutan, Russia, Iran, Eritrea, Guatemala, El Salvador, Mexico and more”
Grand Prairie works closely with Lutheran Social Services and their refugee and immigrant programs.
“You come to work you do your job well you support your team,” said Valerie. “But then there is also the opportunity to say hey, what else could you do to enhance yourself? Can you learn to speak English can you learn to write English can you understand finances can you save enough money to buy a home, which many of employees have done.”
Valerie’s office is decorated with gifts, cards and pictures from employees and their families. I asked her to share one of the Thank You cards. Turns out it is from a woman who has worked at the plant for 11 years. Her goal was to learn enough English to go to her child’s conference and speak to the teacher, which she did. Valerie read us a portion of the note.
“You’re an example for every woman is doing wonderful things for themselves, I love you so much, be happy, you smile I write these words from my heart to you.”
The Loudenback’s hope others can see the value in America’s diversity.
“They just want a chance to get ahead, like our ancestors they want their children to do better than they did,” said Valerie.
Kurt agrees and says his view of immigrants is a lot different than the mood in the nation’s capital.
“It is concerning when I hear the talk about shutting the border and building walls. And I’m all for a safe country, you know I am as big a believer in the next person relative to keeping our country safe. But, I hope we don’t go too far and get the pendulum swinging too far the other way and prevent good people like this from entering our country to become part of our future.”
“Our community has changed,” said Valerie. “It’s not a bad thing; it’s nothing to be afraid of. I view it as an opportunity. So the people who work for me, their children are the individuals that may have your job next, or my job, they are the ones who will be contributing as much as our own kids are to the strength of the community.”
The Sioux Falls plant is currently expanding, which could mean more jobs in the future. Grand Prairie Foods received the 2016 Employer of the Year Award from Lutheran Social Services Center for New Americans.