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Businesses in Grand Forks employ international workers

17% of the United States labor force was born in another country in 2021 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The number has been on the decline in recent years, including a drop from 17.4% in 2019.

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Jordan Quiquempois, an international worker from France, makes an apple cake at Archives Coffee House on the UND campus Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021. Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald
Eric Hylden

Jordan Quiquempois has worked as a baker at Archives Coffee House on the UND campus since mid-November, despite not being fluent in English.

Quiquempois communicates with Kellie Rygg, a manager at the coffee shop, through Google Translate. The language barrier may be a hassle, but he said coming to terms with living in the United States mostly included preparing himself for frigid winters and containing his amazement at the size of American pickup trucks compared to the compact cars he was used to seeing in France.

“For me, the culture shock was not very important because I have always lived with it,” Quiquempois said.

About 17% of the United States labor force was born in another country in 2021, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The number has been on the decline in recent years, including a drop from 17.4% in 2019. The overall labor force declined by 2.8 million workers from 2019 to 2020, and foreign-born workers accounted for 1.1 million of the decline — just under 40% of all workers leaving the labor force.

Quiquempois is from Toulan, France, and went to culinary school there. He and his wife came to Grand Forks in July so she could study biomedical engineering at UND. Quiquempois and his wife do not own a car, so they walk sometimes as much as two hours to get groceries. He is a big fan of T.J. Maxx.

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“He fell in our laps,” Rygg said. “He came in one day with some samples, and of course who’s going to turn down some samples? We tried it, and he said his dream is to work in a small coffee shop. At first, we thought it was way too good to be true. It took a couple of months and he came back again, and we were like, ‘OK.’ It’s been amazing.”

Rygg raved about his work ethic and skills as a baker.

“He just comes in and bakes,” Rygg said. “He never wastes. There’s no waste, so if it doesn’t turn out (right), it’s bread pudding, or (something else). I don’t think he’s thrown anything out since we’ve started.”

Airtonomy, a drone data management company in Grand Forks, has been hiring international workers since its inception, but founder and CEO Josh Riedy said it hasn’t been on purpose.

“We have a thirst for skilled employees in mathematics, software development, engineering, computer science and if they happen to be international in origin, we’re more than willing to work with them and employ them,” Riedy said.

Airtonomy began receiving an influx of international workers through UND. The company has been snagging grad school students from the university’s College of Engineering and Mines from the beginning.

Riedy went to UND and indicated the students they were looking for, which is when he met Dr. Jeremiah Neubert, a professor of mechanical engineering. Now, he checks in often to try to find more employees.

“We have hired most of his graduate students he’s produced in the last several years,” Riedy said. “He does a phenomenal job.”

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As for communication, Riedy said it has not been an issue for him and any of his international employees.

“Language has not been a barrier, and I will give credit to their schooling, be it UND or elsewhere,” Riedy said. “English language, in particular, has not been a barrier, either spoken or written.”

Riedy knew of seven international workers currently on Airtonomy’s payroll off the top of his head. He said learning about them is one of the best parts of his job, and he plans on continuing to hire them in the future.

“The personal joy I’m taking from that is beginning to understand other cultures,” Riedy said. “...We found that we have a number of students, as an example, from Bangladesh. We’ve had great success with the students from Bangladesh. They have a great culture, and they have a great work ethic.”

Related Topics: GFH INSTAGRAM
Jacob Holley joined the Grand Forks Herald as its business reporter in June 2021.

Holley's beat at the Grand Forks Herald is broad and includes a variety of topics, including small business, national trends and more.

Readers can reach Holley at jholley@gfherald.com.Follow him on Twitter @JakeHolleyMedia.
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