Spokane Valley business thrives with refugee employees

Spokane Valley business thrives with refugee employees

They came to Spokane fleeing war in Sudan. Now, three refugees are helping a Spokane Valley small business grow and succeed.

Sean McLaughlin started import company Waterglider International about 15 years ago to make a little extra money while he taught. The company imports and distributes various products across the globe. McLaughlin’s business has grown to a full time job for him and it’s the source of some success for three new Spokane residents from Sudan.

About four years ago, McLaughlin was having a hard time finding and keeping dependable and committed employees. Working at a distribution center isn’t glamorous and involves a lot of repetitious work. The solution to his problem came in the form of three men from Sudan with cheerful spirits and hardworking attitudes.

Mubarek is the newest employee at Waterglider International. He spent Thursday hand stuffing meditation pillows, wrapping them in plastic, and boxing them up. The 38-year-old man doesn’t mind this kind of work, like some of the employees before him did. That’s one of the reason’s he’s such a valuable addition to the team.

“We need people who can show up every day, not mind to do tasks that are repetitive,” McLaughlin said.

Working at Waterglider International and living in America is a dream come true for Mubarek. He’s been in Spokane for three years and four months.Before this, he survived war in Sudan, where his family still lives.

“My family is still in the region of the conflict,” Mubarek said.

He rarely gets to hear their voices. He’s never even met his son.

“I have like almost one year or like eight months [that] I never talked to them,” Mubarek said.

But Mubarek has found a home in Spokane, made friends, and makes a living, thanks to McLaughlin and the refugee resettlement non-profit World Relief. That’s the group that helped connect McLaughlin with the refugees who now work for him. McLaughlin said hiring them was a smart business move.

“By being able to rely on steady labor that you know is always going to be there and always produces at high quality rates, I’m able to concentrate on my job…because I know that everything is going to be produced and processed effectively,” McLaughlin said.

The workplace appreciation seems mutual between everyone on staff.

“This company is a nice company and why I like to work here [is] because they have nice people. They respect, they respect people,” Mubarek said.

One man’s dream has fueled another’s.

“They’re just like my ancestors were back in the 1800s coming to find a better life and opportunity. I guess I see it as paying it forward, but also, like I said, as a business owner, it makes the best economic sense,” McLaughlin said.

McLaughlin prides his company in paying above minimum wage. He said he recently started a modest profit share program with his employees, too.