When Craig Parker started at Silver Star Construction in 1992, the company focused on earthworks, or moving dirt around. Today it’s the largest commercial paving contractor in greater Oklahoma City, with annual revenues approaching $70 million and a staff of close to 200. The company maintains the roads for Moore and Mustang cities, then turns around and provides free driveway maintenance to low-income and elderly homeowners. But when it comes to expanding his business further, Parker has hit a wall: He can’t find enough workers willing to man the machines and manipulate the hot tar. U.S.-born workers aren’t applying, he says, and the federal government’s immigration system restricts the ability of many foreign-born workers to legally take a job in the United States.
“We could have easily added two or three more crews over the last two years, had we had the available workforce to do so,” Parker says. “Getting the equipment is not the problem. It’s getting the right people on board that’s a huge hindrance to expansion.”
Getting the equipment is not the problem. It’s getting the right people on board that’s a huge hindrance to expansion.
Parker estimates that Silver Star has consistently had 10 to 25 open jobs during the last four years. “We’ve had a real challenge finding people who are willing to work in paving,” he says. “It’s a hard, hot job, and more and more Americans just don’t want to do it.” On the flip side, there’s no shortage of immigrants “willing to get their hands dirty,” he says. In fact, the foreign-born workers there now — they currently comprise one-third of the staff — have friends and family, both in the state and abroad, interested in the jobs. But they aren’t authorized to work in the United States, and Silver Star refuses to hire undocumented workers. “The immigrants who work for us are a very important part of our company,” he says. “They’re a very honest, hardworking group of people who make a handsome salary on which they pay taxes, Social Security, and Medicare just like naturalized citizens do. It’s a shame that the reason we can’t grow our company is due to lack of workforce when we know there’s available labor out there.”
Immigration reform is critical to his company’s success, he says: “Right now, we’re just in the paving and dirt work side of the industry. But we could expand into several different operations and grow our company to one and a half times the size it is now. To do that we need an easier and more economical path for immigrant workers to get into our country.”