Every day, immigrants are busting myths and building Canada

Useful vignette:

Riverside Natural Foods, launched just three years ago this August, began with one syrup kettle, a few baking trays and just 10 employees. Today it has 100. The Riverside plant near York University has production lines running from the pre-dawn hours till past midnight in two buildings, with a third expected to open in January. MadeGood bars are popping up everywhere from corner stores to major supermarkets. Riverside clients include giants like Loblaws, Costco and Whole Foods. “It’s been quite a ride,” says Ms. Fotovat.

Her brother Nima is company president, her sister Salma is in charge of the supply chain. She is head of operations. She arrives at the plant every weekday around 7 a.m. After scrubbing her hands, putting on a lab coat and pulling a net over her hair, she walks onto the floor to see how things are going. In one part of the plant, workers are pouring oats into a mixing machine; in another, a group of women are packing snacks into boxes for shipment; in another, a big ultrasonic cutting machine is dividing a sheet of cooked oats into bars.

With production ramping up so fast, the company is always bringing in new, more sophisticated machinery from Italy, Germany or the United States. But Ms. Fotovat says the key to its success, and the hope for its future, is the people.

She relies on their quick wits to fix production glitches and help figure out how to do things better. “What I’ve learned over the years is you’ve got to give people time to show what they can do,” she says. “You don’t think they can do it and then they blow your mind.”

The Riverside staff is a typical Toronto mix. One manager comes from Venezuela, another from Peru. Most of the workers on the floor come from the Philippines. Ms. Fotovat hired many through a temp agency.

One of her finds was Renato Resurreccion, who walked in the door as a temp and now manages 20 to 30 people on the morning shift. Another is Fernando Yarcia, who oversees the mixing machine. “He just cares,” says Ms. Fotovat. “If he sees a piece of garbage on the floor, he’s the one who will pick it up and put it in the garbage.” He wept when he heard the company was hiring him on full time.

Riverside doesn’t just want to be a big company. It wants to be a model company, where employees feel that they have a stake and share in its success. It is the kind of place where they remember your birthday and listen to your ideas.

In other words, it is about as far as you could imagine from the sweatshop that Trump fans and their Canadian cousins have in mind when they complain about how immigration is wrecking everything. Here is a business that rather than lowering standards and undercutting more established firms is setting high standards for innovation and creativity, while going out of its way to treat its employees right.

A paper by University of Waterloo professor Bessma Momani for this week’s 6 Degrees Citizen Space event in Toronto finds that “Canadian immigrants are more likely than Canadian-born people to start their own businesses. They employ other Canadians, innovate new products and services, disrupt business as usual and generate wealth and prosperity for Canada and all Canadians.”

Source: Every day, immigrants are busting myths and building Canada – The Globe and Mail

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About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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