Thursday, March 10, 2011 | The Greenery, Inc.

The Greenery, Inc. – Thursday, March 10, 2011

Going Really Green

By Dominique Peridans, March 15, 2011

The Greenery, a landscaping company located in Hilton Head, S.C., proudly boasts of having no illegal workers. Its president and CEO, Lee Edwards, was recently elected a Town Councilman (Ward 3), and during his campaign he spoke clearly of his opposition to illegal immigration. His political stance is one that he applies to the company founded by his family in 1973. His employee-owned company of over 400 workers (one of the largest employers in Beaufort County) is vigilant when it comes to the legality of its workforce: “I’ve turned down plenty of people because their documents were suspect or didn’t check out…Have we hired some illegal immigrants unknowingly? Possibly. But we followed the letter and spirit of the law.”

Edwards explains that his concern for such legality precedes the passing of a South Carolina law in 2008 requiring all state employers to use E-Verify or to accept as identification only secure driver’s licenses (issued in 26 states). For Edwards, the law has clearly served to promote even better business practices. The Greenery was audited in 2009 by Beaufort County, which has its own regulations against illegal hiring, and last year by the state’s Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, and found to be in full compliance with its Illegal Immigration Reform Act. In the past, it was rumored that the Greenery hired illegal workers. Edwards contests the claim, stating that there have been no legitimate accusations, and has publicly invited the anonymous bloggers who have accused The Greenery of illegal hiring to visit his company to witness first-hand the thoroughness with which they screen job applicants.

How has such compliance with immigration laws affected business? Understandably, especially in these early stages, hiring has been somewhat more difficult – but not impossible. “We have to work harder”, says Edwards, “and we’ve had to be creative.” The Greenery held its first job fair. There was a need to fill 40 positions. Over 160 people attended the fair, attesting to the reality that, in this market, finding legal workers, in the end, is not as difficult as some may surmise. There has been, however, as Edwards explains, a dramatic shift in job applicants. The Greenery is not seeing, as in the past, daily applicants originally from Mexico or other Central American countries. And most of those who do apply for positions, when told that the company uses E-Verify, do not return to finish the application process.

What about costs and competition and the community? All of these practices have led to a slight increase in operational costs, but nothing that Edwards considers adverse. He does not know if any of his competitors are benefiting from the resulting available illegal laborers, but presumes that there may be a few. The broader community has been favorable, albeit quiet, regarding these practices. Edwards admits that there is little patience in South Carolina for immigrants who have not followed the legal pathway, and so perhaps The Greenery’s actions are simply to be expected and consequently merit no specific praise from the community.

Edwards is convinced that the laws that are in place regarding the hire of illegal works are extremely effective, perhaps the most effective laws in dealing with illegal aliens. His experience supports the claim that the removal of the poles of attraction for illegal immigrants results in an attrition of the population. “Illegal immigrants are coming because jobs are available to them,” he says. “It is as simple as that.” Edwards has witnessed a marked decrease in the population of persons in the state illegally, which he attributes to mandatory E-verify and auditing of employers (and not to the current lethargy of the construction industry, as some have claimed). As Town Councilman, Edwards is open to some of the other immigration legislation being debated in South Carolina (some patterned after Arizona’s immigration laws) but is unsure of their necessity, given the effectiveness of workplace enforcement. “We have other fish to fry,” he says.

Has The Greenery gone really green? It all depends, of course, on how we define “green”. If “green” means “environmentally sound”, and legal hiring creates a more respectful, more harmonious work (and civic) environment, then perhaps it has gone really green. Those supportive of such business practices cannot but wish such companies continued growth. Go green!