Leadership Triangle forum focuses on immigration, economy

May. 07, 2013 @ 08:53 PM

Immigration is needed to help keep the country globally competitive.

That’s the message from James Johnson Jr., a strategy and entrepreneurship professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Kenan-Flagler Business School, in an immigration reform-focused forum on Tuesday.

The forum, hosted by the leadership development group Leadership Triangle, was held at the American Tobacco campus in Durham and streamed live on wral.com. Johnson spoke at the forum along with Anuja Purohit, who works in the office of corporate counsel for the Research Triangle Park-based nonprofit research institute, RTI International, and Kurt Bland, president of Bland Landscaping Co.

“Most industrialized nations, including ours, are characterized by aging populations and low birth rates,” Johnson said. “We’re going to need the talent in years ahead because we can’t produce it on our own.”

There are an estimated 11.5 million unauthorized immigrants in the United States today, Johnson said. Numbers have grown of undocumented immigrants who came to the country by legal means as tourists, international students or in other categories.

“My message to you is, if we’re going to have an honest debate about illegal immigration, let’s not make the poor Hispanic immigrant the scapegoat,” he said.

He said U.S. population growth has been driven by non-whites. Immigration and migration are age-selective processes, he said, drawing younger people.

“What kind of health problems do you have in your 40s?” he said. “When you’re in your 20s, you have acute crises. In your 40s, you have chronic conditions. Which one costs more?”

Later in the forum, Bland spoke about the company’s need for guest workers through the H-2B program, a program that allows U.S. employers to bring temporary workers into the country to fill non-agricultural jobs.

He said the company must provide subsidized housing, it pays fees per employee and has to arrange transportation for workers into the United States.

The program has become “mired down in lawsuits” in the past six years, he said, attributing an approximately 2 percent loss in productivity to lack of access in certain years to H-2B guest workers.

“We hear all these statistics about unemployment,” he said. “Why do you have these problems filling jobs? Unemployment is high, and the answer is people don’t want to do the work that we do, bottom line. That’s why I’m here.”

The landscaping company, which started in 1976, employs about 220 people in the Triangle, he said. There are times that the company has had 60 to 65 guest workers employed with the company, he said.

 “It’s a challenge, and so in spite of all the challenges that H-2B presents, we elect to do it because it’s a do or die thing for me,” he said. “We’ve seen quality issues in the years when we haven’t had the H-2B worker.”