The city of Clarkston, Ga is a top destination for refugees and the Mayor, along with business leaders, have seized the opportunity to tap into a pool of workers who are responsible, committed and capable. Clarkston is located just 10 miles northeast of Atlanta that has earned the nickname “Ellis Island of the South.” In the 1990s, refugee programs in the United States identified Clarkston as a good fit for displaced persons of many different backgrounds based on its housing market and convenient access to public transportation and major highways.
This week in In Process, we speak with Clarkston Mayor Edward “Ted” Terry and Chris Chancey, CEO of Amplio Recruiting, a staffing company for the talented refugee workforce, about the innovative and compassionate things this small Georgia town has done to earn its tagline “Where Possibilities Grow.”
Mayor Terry, the youngest person to hold this position in Clarkston’s 135-year history, has more than 17 years of experience in public service and is leading Clarkston's vision to become a more welcoming and compassionate community. Earlier in his career, Mayor Terry worked as a consultant for a wide array of legislators, school board members and non-profits. During that time, he helped raise millions of dollars for campaigns and causes, focusing on uniting individuals and businesses behind a common goal of creating a better society.
“I’m a millennial mayor and have often been called a hipster, which I think is a compliment,” said Mayor Terry. “I came to Clarkston almost seven years ago just as a temporary situation, but got involved politically because I saw there was a need in the community. The more I learned about its 35-year history of refugee settlement, it became apparent to me that this really is the best of what America has to offer.”
For Mayor Terry, he saw an opportunity to build on the microcosm of what a “more peaceful and prosperous world could be like.”
Similarly, Amplio Recruiting’s Chris Chancey sees himself as a social entrepreneur. In 2014, Chris visited Clarkston to learn more about the refugee resettlement process in America. He saw an opportunity to employ these legal and diligent newcomers while providing much-needed resources for companies all over Atlanta.
The dream of staffing Atlanta companies with talented refugee workers became a quick reality. By 2016, refugees placed by Amplio Recruiting were deeply engaged with products and services offered by Wal-Mart, Google, Tesla and dozens of other companies in Atlanta. This year, Amplio Recruiting has launched locations in Raleigh, N.C., Austin, Dallas, and London.
“We've been in the process of opening the London office and have had conference calls with several major companies such as Starbucks and L'Oreal, as well as mom-and-pop stores and manufacturing facilities that are already interested in using our services there,” said Chris. “Clarkston has a good concept so we can look at that and replicate it in other parts of the world where that same kind of collaboration and cohesiveness is needed to really find a path forward for refugees in need of a new start.”
According to Mayor Terry, refugees who come to America are almost exclusively families, and often three generations in one household. The goal is to help get one of the adults fully employed so the family can afford housing and transportation. To further help its residents, the city is focused on creating affordable housing, access to public transportation, and other refugee resettlement issues such as innovative new models around civilian-led policing, tiny-house development, and micro-farming. As if that’s not enough, Mayor Terry has also committed Clarkston to a goal of 100-percent clean energy by 2050.
“We’re creating a walkable community,” said Mayor Terry. “The grocery store, the schools, the community center, the library, the houses of worship―they're all literally in one square mile within a 10-minute walk.”
He believes there’s good reason why the city is nicknamed “Ellis Island of the South.” According to Mayor Terry, “The average refugee stays two to four years, some a lot longer. Once people gain employment, they are looking for homes to buy or other places to move to and expand, so it's a good entry point for a lot of new Americans.”
At the Intersection of Three Great Needs
Chris started Amplio Recruiting in 2014 after working with an international business in microfinance. Helping people get capital enabled him to follow that process all the way to his own backyard and find a way to do something for the refugees who needed help getting settled in the United States. Despite the resistance to the refugee influx, and the fears some had about dangerous people coming into the country, Chris forged on with his venture to perform a vital recruiting service.
"Whether or not we agree that these refugees should be resettled in the United States or in Clarkston, they are here. If they can add value to our community and we can pay a living wage to them, then it seems like a great match,” said Chris. “There's one gentleman I recruited, a former Iraqi Air Force General under Saddam Hussein, who is now a property manager at an apartment complex. He resettled in Clarkston almost 15 years ago. Although I don’t think he ever thought he was going to become an Air Force General in the American military, we were able to apply those same skills in managing a really good property.”
According to Chris, most of the refugees are just looking for an opportunity to work, learn quickly, put food on the table and give their children a good education. Many of the golf-course communities in and around Atlanta have cooks, servers and turf maintenance people employed through his services.
He also partners with The Lantern Project to help train people in construction skills. “Right now there's a ton of electricians who need a good place to work. They’ve been training for a year to go into welding or pipefitting. We have a lot of folks who are stepping into those roles, and as you know Atlanta is booming with opportunities in construction. There's a huge labor shortage, so it's been great to be able to fill in those spots,” Chris added.
Over the years, Chris has witnessed the impact his efforts have had on the business community. For those companies that hire refugees, they learn quickly that a hard work ethic, combined with investments in training, pays off. The business gains a qualified, dedicated employee; the workers are able to give their families stability in an unstable world; and the community becomes more acquainted with the refugees and embraces them―instead of fearing them.
Chris and Mayor Terry are believers in pushing one’s comfort zone. “Chris is connecting people face to face,” said Mayor Terry. “That's what we’ve got to focus on now. Forget the media, forget what's on the Internet, and take that next step out into the real world and see for yourself.”
Stream the conversation in the player below to hear about the interesting ways Mayor Ted Terry and Chris Chancey are helping to build a city that serves as a safe landing spot for refugees, while giving employers access to an eager, dedicated and dependable workforce. You can also subscribe to In Process on iTunes to receive this episode as well as future updates from the show on your smartphone.