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WNY business: we couldn't have stayed in Buffalo without hiring refugees

Posted at 6:55 PM, Mar 10, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-10 18:55:02-05

Apple Imprints on Bailey Avenue in Buffalo had plans to move the business to South Carolina, until they decided to try hiring refugees.

"We were having a very difficult time with labor pool manufacturing jobs," President Kevin Lipomi said.  "We couldn't get reliable help."

That was in 2009 and the company couldn't find employees who would keep the job for very long, or even just come into work everyday.  Lipomi said that's when he decided to take a chance and hire a few refugees.

He was nervous about the language barrier at first, but those concerns soon disappeared and Apple Imprints had finally found a pool of workers it knew it could rely on.  Lipomi said the refugee workers quickly became his hardest workers and were consistent and trustworthy.

Without deciding to hire refugee workers, Lipomi said they likely wouldn't have been able to stay in Buffalo.

"The saving grace was having consistent employees that cared about their job in manufacturing that were here everyday and were passionate about it," he said.

Krishna Adhikari is one of the refugee workers Lipomi has come to rely on.

"I flew [to America] to get a new opportunity from the refugee camp," he said.

Adhikari is from Bhutan, but fled to Nepal with his family when he was just three years old.  They stayed there for 21 years before Adhikari took a chance at a new life here in Buffalo.

"I am very happy because this is my first job," he explained.  "I'm still working here for four years.  I came here December 12, 2012 and I got a job here May 2, 2013.  Until now I am here, this is my first job."

That loyalty is one of the things that makes refugee workers like Adhikari so valuable to Apple Imprints and it was something they couldn't find in American-born workers

"We need this industry, we need manufacturing here," Lipomi said.  "We can't always count on Americans to do the manufacturing any longer, we need other help.  So this is vital to the growth of not just Buffalo, but New York State in general."

The relationship has worked out so well, Apple Imprints just revealed a $250,000 expansion.  They've added embroidery machines and say their reliable workforce helped make them confident enough to make such a big investment.