New Americans, same old American dream
WEST FARGO—Ned Halilovic had $60 to his name when he got to town in 1996.
Five years later, he started a company that now employs dozens and recently finished post-construction cleaning at Fargo's Sanford Medical Center, one of the largest private construction projects in North Dakota.
It's a classic example of achieving the American dream, but Halilovic's version started in Bosnia. He was resettled in Fargo, arriving here as a 17-year-old who didn't speak English but wanted a better life.
"I always dreamed big," he said. "Yeah, it's hard work. It is, but it pays off."
As the number of local residents born in other countries continues to grow, Halilovic isn't alone as a new American business owner here.
The average resident might be most familiar with the many restaurants operated by immigrants or new Americans, but the new American business impact here goes far beyond cuisine.
Garmai Krai said there's nothing better than owning Hair by Garmai, 1621 S. University Drive, even if it means being a "team of one" as the sole employee.
"That's the American dream is eventually being in charge of your own destiny," she said.
The native of Liberia had a long journey to achieve that dream that began when her family moved to Iowa about 20 years ago.
Now 36, Krai was inspired to make a bold move when her son started kindergarten and she decided she should go to school, too. She became a licensed cosmetologist and moved to Minnesota, got jobs in hair salons owned by fellow African natives and met her husband.
The family moved to Fargo when her husband got a job here, and she noticed there weren't many local salons that could handle traditional African braiding. Inspiration struck, and she opened her salon a year ago.
Hair by Garmai isn't just a business for black women, and Krai said she wants it to be a place for all Americans like herself.
"I really see myself at this point as any other American because I have lived in this country more of my life than I have in Africa," she said.
There are some unique hurdles here, she said. North Dakota, only lets licensed cosmetologists do hair braiding, while Minnesota allows credentialed braiders to do that with minimal training that's faster and cheaper to complete.
But Krai plans to keep working to change the state's laws and help others like her achieve their dreams.
Bader Alramadan's version of the American dream is all about old stuff.
He grew up in Iraq and went to a refugee camp in Jordan in 1998, living there for 10 years. It was a "hard life," he said, but it was also where he discovered his passion for old things that he embraces at Now & Then Shoppe, 1017 4th Ave. N.
He was resettled in Fargo on Sept. 8, 2008, arriving with limited English skills that he improved through education. It wasn't long before he was eager to make it on his own.
"I don't like to stay at home and get food stamps," he said. "I like to work."
He got a job at a north Fargo thrift store, but the part-time gig wasn't enough to support his wife and three kids. Alramadan made ends meet by buying things from thrift stores and selling at antique shops.
During one of his treasure hunts, he offered to help Now & Then Shoppe's former owner in exchange for learning about the business. Hubert Allery gave him a spot to sell his own antiques, and Alramadan bought the business two years ago.
Some parts of the job have been easy. He said no matter the country, people like to get a good deal, and bargaining at his Fargo shop isn't much different than it was in Jordan.
Other aspects are more challenging, especially the language barrier. Alramadan's English has improved over time, and he said American customers have helped explain concepts or new words.
Alramadan said he gets to learn something new every day and provide a good life for his family all because of his hard work.
"This is my dream," he said.
Halilovic's business aspirations began in his final year at Concordia College.
He took a cleaning job and figured there'd always be a need for those services, so he started Ambassador Cleaning in August 2001.
He got a break when the former Timber Lodge Steakhouse became his first paying customer, and positive word of mouth from that job meant he was soon cleaning at several local restaurants. The number of clients grew, and Ambassador Cleaning, 102 Beaton Drive W. in West Fargo, now cleans everything from heavy machinery to buildings after construction.
Halilovic opened a local franchise of Rainbow International, a restoration company specializing in emergency cleaning services, in 2007. His two companies now have about 60 employees who hail from countries all over the world.
It's hard work, but he said he makes a good living with his wife who co-owns Ambassador Cleaning.
He may have been born in Bosnia, but he left as a teenager and has called Fargo home for almost 23 years. That's why he doesn't have to think twice when people ask where he's from.
"I say, 'I'm from West Fargo,' and they start laughing like, 'Oh, yeah, right,' " he said. "So I always give them a joke, 'That's how we talk in Fargo.' "