When Atlapac, a manufacturer of plastic bags, was founded in Columbus, Ohio, in 1986, it was a small company: Only three machines and five employees. Today, its 60 machines and 80 employees manufacture 380 million bags a year. Chances are, you’ve got Atlapac bags in your home. Nestle dog treats? They’re wrapped in Atlapac bags. Gorton’s Seafood? Wrapped in Atlapac. Sam’s Club popcorn? An Atlapac package.
“Our state has seen a dramatic loss in manufacturing,” says Paul Unrue, Atlapac’s president. “We’re able to operate here because of our immigrant employees.”
The majority of Unrue’s team hails from Vietnam. “They’re great employees,” he says. “Consistent and reliable in a job that’s very repetitive.” Atlapac’s operations have become incredibly cost-effective, so much so that they’ve convinced other companies to stop outsourcing bag production. Bath and Body Works, also headquartered in Columbus, once bought all of its packaging in China. “Today, they buy 15 million bags a year from us,” says Unrue.
Our state has seen a dramatic loss in manufacturing. We’re able to operate here because of our immigrant employees.
Unrue supports immigration reform because immigrants are the backbone of Atlapac’s success. Further, Atlapac’s ability to grow depends upon the ability to hire more immigrant employees. He says that many Vietnamese immigrants are leaving manufacturing to work in nail salons. And second-generation Vietnamese, along with non-immigrants, “don’t want to work in factories,” he says. This includes Unrue’s own son, who did a short stint on Atlapac’s factory floor.
If Atlapac had access to a larger pool of immigrant employees, “we’d be able to grow our sales 15 percent in about two years,” says Unrue. “We could buy more machines and equipment to make more bags. We’d be able to hire more high-skilled machine operators.”
In other words, Unrue’s ability to hire more immigrants would support the manufacturers who make the factory machines. It would increase the percentage of American-made bags in U.S. grocery stores and, in Columbus, it would create more jobs at Atlapac for American-born workers. Those are Paul Unrue’s reasons for immigration reform.