Federico Velasco, who works to connect people from Puerto Rico with jobs in rural Midwestern communities where the labor pools are shallow and employers are looking for hires, speaks in Carroll Thursday. (Photos by Douglas Burns)
Federico Velasco, who works to connect people from Puerto Rico with jobs in rural Midwestern communities where the labor pools are shallow and employers are looking for hires, speaks in Carroll Thursday. (Photos by Douglas Burns)

July 1, 2019

The devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and desperation in Carroll stemming from a shallow labor pool, one plagued by unemployment rates consistently below 2 percent, could end up being the beginning of a beautiful friendship that brings more people from the island territory to rural Iowa for unfilled jobs, local economic development leaders say.

Carroll County is taking steps to be on the leading edge of working with Minnesota-based Talent Integration to relocate Puerto Ricans, American citizens who face 10 percent unemployment rates in their home region, to Iowa.

“Our job is to get the right people to the right job,” said Talent Integration recruitment director Federico Velasco. “We want to do right by both.”

Velasco spoke at the Carrollton Thursday to about 30 business owners, human resources directors and others representing some of Carroll County’s largest employers, small businesses and cities. Many local employers have expressed concern that they simply can’t find labor to maintain services or expand to meet potential demand with the existing Carroll-area workforce.

The Carroll Area Development Corporation organized the connection with Talent Integration and Carroll County employers.

“I think that there are lot of benefits with this meeting,” said Shannon Landauer, executive director of the Carroll Area Development Corporation. “We know what the workforce challenge is. Every month we get our map, and the unemployment rates are lower and lower. We know that a lot of Carroll County residents are working sometimes two jobs. There are three incomes per household in a lot of situations, and something’s got to give. We want to support our employers that are doing an awesome job in the communities. With immigrant workforce, there can certainly be challenges with cultural transitions, even citizenship transitions, but Puerto Ricans are American citizens. It’s a quicker transition. Some of them have already been in other parts of the nation.”

Talent Integration has placed 250 people from Puerto Rico in jobs and career positions in Minnesota, Indiana, Ohio and Iowa. The placement firm lists some household-name businesses in the Midwest as clients.

“The great majority of the people we’ve brought are very happy to be here,” Velasco said.

Velasco’s firm has filled manufacturing jobs, provided welders and painters and many construction workers in addition to plumbers and painters and even people in the medical field. Some are bilingual, while some speak primarily Spanish.

It all started for Talent Integration as a business in Minnesota when a local organization needed to fill jobs quickly.

“Puerto Rico was the obvious answer,” Velasco said. “Like you know, Puerto Ricans are American citizens.”

The economic troubles in Puerto Rico give Talent Integration a wide pool from which to recruit.

“It allows us to be picky and choose the right people for our clients,” Velasco said.

Cars, rent, food and other expenses are high in Puerto Rico, and many workers are in temporary jobs when they would prefer full-time options with benefits, he said.

Velasco intensively screens potential hires and obtains a “letter of good behavior” from Puerto Rican officials before inking arrangements for workers with businesses.

Businesses pay recruiting fees equal to about 25 to 30 percent of annual wages or salary for an employee; and they are required to pay two hiring bonuses — one of $1,200 to $1,500 to help with starting rent and housing, and another of $500 for initial transportation to work.

“The goal is for them to be independent within 10 days of arriving here,” Velasco said.

The process of contacting Talent Integration to having an employee working in a business takes about a month.

Some employers ask for time commitments before hiring people; others don’t.

Talent Integration would like to work with no fewer than 10 people from Puerto Rico to come to Carroll County to work for a variety of businesses. Interest was high among local business leaders, and Velasco met with several businesses individually in recent days about recruiting Puerto Ricans for Carroll jobs.

“We’re doing this on a smaller scale,” Landauer said. “If you bring in 50 to 100 or more that have never seen anything in the community and they just get dropped here and are expected to flourish, that’s so challenging. But here we are seeing a process where they have someone helping them.”

Bigger picture and long term, Landauer said it makes sense to have a paid or volunteer liaison on the ground in Carroll to assist new residents of the community, particularly immigrants, adapt to Carroll County.

“As people are coming into our community I think the more we can do to be welcoming and help them integrate quickly and find Carroll County to be their new home, and a good long-term home, it’s going to really serve everyone better,” Landauer said.