Maria Rios describes herself as “the ultimate example of the impact of immigrants in the United States.” The founder and CEO of Nation Waste, Inc., a waste removal company based in Texas, Rios emigrated from El Salvador with her family when she was 13. “When I arrived to the United States, I didn’t speak a word of English,” she says. Today, Rios is a proud U.S. citizen and the head of a 48-person company that is generating tens of millions of dollars in annual revenue. “I’m living the American dream,” she says.
Rios first came up with the idea for Nation Waste, Inc., in her senior year of college. At the time, she was working for a Texas company in the waste removal industry and says that she “saw a niche” in waste removal. “I realized that trash will always be there and we need people to pick it up,” she says. “It’s a business with endless potential.” In addition, Rios noticed that big companies in the industry often underserved small companies and minority communities and saw an opportunity to build a successful business while also serving her community. So when Rios had to develop a business proposal for one of her course projects, she drew up a plan for a waste removal company. “The rest, as we Americans say, is history.”
I went into the industry not knowing it was completely male-dominated, but this Latina is making a big impact.
Rios started her business in 1998 with two trucks. Today, she owns a fleet of 34. In 2014, Nation Waste, Inc. won a bid to be Houston’s official waste removal company – the first minority-owned company to win this contract. The company is also the first Latina-owned waste removal business in the country. “I went into the industry not knowing it was completely male-dominated,” she says, “but this Latina is making a big impact.” This impact has been widely recognized. Fortune named Rios as one of the most powerful female entrepreneurs in the country, and Goldman Sachs included her on its list of the “100 Most Intriguing Entrepreneurs.”
Rios has big hopes for the future. She plans to take her company national and eventually global because, she laughs, “why not?” Rios says, however, that the U.S. immigration system poses a barrier to her success. “Many businesses, including mine, are unable to get the workers they need and are therefore unable to reach their full potential,” she says. Nation Waste, Inc., for example, currently has several positions open for environmental engineers and certified welders and no qualified workers to fill them.
“The world’s most talented workers are knocking on our doors offering their skills – and we’re turning them away,” Rios says. She adds that the United States is missing out, while other countries like Canada, the United Kingdom, and Chile are proactively attracting global talent through new visa programs. “The system is failing,” Rios says emphatically. “Immigration reform is something America needs immediately. Not in a few months or years, but right now.”