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Special day marks refugees' contributions

Amer Lalic, 25, is climbing the ladder of success. More than four years ago, a cousin said he should apply to work at Cardinal Insulated Glass in Fargo. Today Lalic not only works there, but supervises 11 other employees on one of the most diffic...

Amer Lalic, 25, is climbing the ladder of success.

More than four years ago, a cousin said he should apply to work at Cardinal Insulated Glass in Fargo. Today Lalic not only works there, but supervises 11 other employees on one of the most difficult lines in the plant. Those employees are natives of Bosnia, Haiti and Fargo.

"When Amer moved to the United States he didn't speak English," said Dave Pinder, plant manager. "Now he's leading a multi-national work force."

And Lalic, who became a U.S. citizen in 2001, loves his job.

"Why else would I stay here four-and-a-half years?" he said.

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About 160 employers hire refugees in the Fargo-Moorhead area, according to New American Services. Another 35 businesses are owned by former refugees.

About 55 percent of Cardinal Glass employees are new Americans, Pinder said. They represent 14 different countries from the Sudan to Haiti.

Companies like Cardinal IG and employees like Lalic are the focus of the first national Refugee Labor Day, which recognizes the contribution of refugees to the workforce.

The goal is for refugees to become self-sufficient within the first six months of resettlement, according to Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, the national agency that resettles refugees.

At this time about 90 percent of employable refugees have jobs, according to LIRS.

A recent study on the impact of refugees on the Fargo-Moorhead community found that refugees bring more value to the local economy than they require in short-term financial support.

But large families and low local wages often keep refugees on public service, according to the report completed by three North Dakota State University sociologists.

Companies like Cardinal IG are the exception.

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Cardinal IG is the world's largest residential insulating glass manufacturer, with 18 plants and more than 3,000 employees across the country.

After two years with the company, most employees make about $12 an hour plus benefits, Pinder said.

Hard-working employees like Lalic have opportunities for even greater financial rewards and promotions.

Lalic's job supported him and his wife while she went to school. She now works at Microsoft Great Plains Business Solutions. Cardinal IG gave him a chance when other businesses wouldn't.

"It (the job market) was pretty limited when I didn't speak English very well," Lalic said. "It was hard to find a good opportunity. Now it would be easier for me to find something."

Pinder said he doesn't care where his employees come from or what language they speak.

"If they come to work and they work hard, they'll make this business successful," he said. "We wouldn't be here without them."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Erin Hemme Froslie at (701) 241-5534

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