Kempner: Trump and non-Trump business partners agree on refugees, jobs

Chris Chancey (left) and Luke Keller (right) are co-owners of Clarkston-based staffing business Amplio Recruiting that specializes in connecting refugees with employers. Chancey is a Trump supporter; Keller is not. But they agree on the potential of refugees and have concerns about recent White House policies tied to refugees. MATT KEMPNER / AJC

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Chris Chancey (left) and Luke Keller (right) are co-owners of Clarkston-based staffing business Amplio Recruiting that specializes in connecting refugees with employers. Chancey is a Trump supporter; Keller is not. But they agree on the potential of refugees and have concerns about recent White House policies tied to refugees. MATT KEMPNER / AJC

I met a Trump supporter and a not-Trump supporter the other day. Funny thing: they were getting along. Even when they were talking politics.

It turns out they have a lot in common. Chris Chancey and Luke Keller are friends and co-owners of an unusual and growing for-profit Georgia staffing agency that specializes in placing refugees.

Amplio Recruiting works with people who’ve fled some of the most troubled spots in the world to seek a safe haven in the U.S. The company connects them with local employers who say they are desperate for workers who will show up on time, stay sober and stick with a job, even relatively low-paying ones.

Chancey had worked with refugees through a nonprofit but had no experience in the staffing industry when he founded the business nearly four years ago. He was shocked at how little employers had come to expect of some U.S. workers.

Translating ‘dependable’

“The barrier to get a job is so low and in our (refugee) community people are so motivated,” he said. “We are only in business because people are so desperate to find good people.

“We talk a lot about the word ‘dependable’ here.”

A sign near the company’s office entrance has the word translated into eight other languages.

Amplio, which is based in DeKalb County’s Clarkston area and also has operations in Texas and North Carolina, has placed more than 600 people so far. Chancey and Keller have a goal to make it 30,000 in the next seven years.

That’s big dreams on a complex canvas.

Some refugees barely speak English. Many don’t have cars. Others fled homes without documents to show they have certified technical skills or even graduated from school.

Maybe job burdens feel light to people who’ve faced far weightier issues.

Like the quiet young man who softly told me his parents feared for his life in Mali. So they sent him alone to the U.S. at age 13. He didn’t speak English. Now, Gaoussou Karambe is 20 and a computer science major at Georgia State University, also working at a Chick-fil-A.

Or the woman I met who had fled Burma “for freedom” after she said soldiers killed people around her and terrorized women. A few months after Amplio placed her at a Tucker company making baby products, Ngai Cing was hired as a full-time employee.

“She’s awesome,” her boss told me.

‘Get beyond the language’

Dean-Paul Hart is the president of Compac Industries, where Cing works.

He said he has a number of strong American workers at the company, but he ran into a revolving door with other U.S. workers who wouldn’t show up for shifts that start at $9 an hour. His success rate has been far better with refugees placed by Amplio, he said.

He told American-born workers who had questions about the newcomers’ differences and where they were coming from — mostly Iraq and Burma — “let’s get beyond the name; let’s get beyond the language.”

“We have great people, and we treasure people.”

Cing wanted to take a photo with Hart (and, unexpectedly, with me) after an informal gathering to mark her transition as a staffer. She was beaming.

How’s that for the power of a job and a shot at a better life?

A family talk about immigration

Most of us have immigrants somewhere not so many branches back in our family tree. But immigration as a broad political issue is often viewed less like an inherited treasure than a dispute we don’t know how to talk about as a family.

Like the recent controversy over the separation of kids and parents caught illegally crossing into the United States, some because they too wanted a safe place to live and a better livelihood. Show me a parent who wouldn’t move heaven and earth to get the same for their kids.

That’s very different, though, from refugees’ applying for legal entry into the U.S., some of whom can spend years in limbo waiting for an invitation and security vetting.

The number of refugees entering the country has been cut sharply in the last year and a half as the Trump administration set new limits and attenpted to enact travel bans citing concerns about how to vet travelers from some nations, including several that are predominantly Muslim.

The resulting public attention to refugee issue has actually been good for Amplio as a business, at least in the short term. It dawned on more employers that refugees might be good additions to their employee ranks, Chancey said. Amplio’s revenue jumped seven fold in a single year.

But Chancey isn’t comfortable with the federal changes.

And that’s one crucial place where Chancey and his business partner, Keller, agree despite stark differences they have with each other about their overall views on President Trump.

The Trump factor

I didn’t bring up the president or politics. Chancey did when volunteered to me that he is a conservative Republican who voted for the president. As we chatted about how that played into policies tied to refugees, Keller stressed to me that he is definitely not a Trump supporter.

This is where the conversation could have gotten ugly. Or abruptly changed to a safer subject.

Neither happened. They talked and listened to each other like Friends With Differences.

“I don’t have those conversation with very many people,” Keller told me.

Maybe it would be different if they didn’t share concerns about the president’s actions on something as central to their business and social goals as how to work with refugees.

(While Chancey doesn’t agree with the recent increased limitations on refugees, he said he wishes more people could see some positives, such as the potential to get better vetting in place — though he said he wasn’t convinced it was necessary — and a chance to let overloaded people helping refugees catch their breath.)

The Amplio guys have heard how hard the lives of refugees have been. And they contend that refugees can be crucial to helping our economy.

That reminds me of what I heard from Kelly James of apartment manager R. James Properties. Amplio has helped him hire workers.

Refugees come with very few possessions, take starting wages and gradually build a new life.

“It has reaffirmed my faith in the American Dream,” he said.

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