Editor’s note: This story has been updated since the original posting to clarify certain parts.
Ever wonder why the federal government would be sending hundreds of foreign refugees to a relatively small town in Idaho?
Wonder no more.
Many of them end up working in the world’s largest yogurt factory.
As WND previously reported, Twin Falls is in line to receive about 300 refugees this year, many of them Muslims from Syria. And the state of Idaho, despite its reputation as a mostly white, conservative farm state, has been a popular destination for refugees in recent years.
Boise Mayor David Bieter has gone on record as a huge supporter of President Obama’s welcoming initiative for immigrants and refugees, writing in a blog post that, for his city, “diversity isn’t a buzzword. It’s our birthright.”
The U.S. State Department has shipped more than 11,000 refugees directly from the Third World to Idaho since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Just in the past year, 989 refugees have arrived in the rural state, most of them landing in either Boise or Twin Falls. Nearly half have come from some of the world’s nastiest jihadist hot zones, including 95 from Iraq, 94 from Somalia, 47 from Sudan, 39 from Afghanistan, 31 from Iran, 28 from Syria and 11 from Pakistan, according to the federal refugee database.
But despite growing protests by local residents against the refugee arrivals, the Twin Falls area can count on being a prime spot for refugees for years to come, thanks to one man’s rising business enterprise.
That man is Hamdi Ulukaya, a Kurdish Muslim and immigrant from Turkey who created the billion-dollar U.S.-based Chobani yogurt empire.
Ulukaya opened the world’s largest yogurt factory in Twin Falls about two years ago, and the plant now employs 600 people with about 30 percent of those jobs filled by foreign refugees shipped to the U.S. from United Nations camps in the Middle East and Africa.
But now Ulukaya is upping the ante.
Taking his message to a bigger stage
At the World Economic Forum meeting this weekend in Davos, Switzerland, he will call on other CEOs to join his campaign to throw corporate cash, lobbying initiatives, services and jobs to refugees.
Six companies have already taken him up on the idea. Ikea, MasterCard, Airbnb, LinkedIn, Western Union and UPS have all agreed to hire more refugees or provide free services to them.
In an op-ed for CNN, Ulukaya writes:
“Some business leaders have stepped up. Airbnb is offering travel credits to relief workers on the ground. LinkedIn will run an innovative pilot project in Sweden that uses data to match refugees with job openings by comparing the skills they have with the skills employers are looking for. Other companies are providing refugees with free computers, access to online education, and packages filled with essentials like soap and sunscreen.”
Ulukaya wants more companies to join the effort of hiring and helping refugees. He started a new foundation, the Tent, for this purpose.
“The Tent Pledge asks companies all over the world to step up and do more. We’re asking them to provide refugees with job training, employment opportunities, and the kind of direct assistance that experts have identified as a priority – everything from blankets and water, to debit cards and Internet access,” he writes.
Watch interview with CNN in which the Chobani founder sings the praises of refugees and what they can add to the U.S. labor force:
The Obama administration is increasing the number of foreign refugees taken in by the United States, from 70,000 annually over the past decade to 85,000 in fiscal 2016 and 100,000 in 2017. Those figures include 10,000 Syrian refugees in 2016 and “many more” in 2017, according to the U.S. State Department.
Obama has also lowered the standards for refugee screening, allowing more than 1,500 refugees who participated in terrorist activity to enter the U.S. in 2014, WND previously reported, allegedly because they committed their crimes “while under duress.”
Looking out for his own?
Ulukaya’s efforts appear spurred by his own cultural background as a Kurdish Muslim and by a personal visit to the refugee camps in Turkey and Greece.
Ulukaya has told several media outlets that he was horrified by the human suffering he witnessed.
But he said the fact that he shares a cultural affinity with many of the refugees — he grew up near the Syrian border in Turkey, before moving to the U.S. as a student – made an even bigger impact.
Ulukaya has also been critical of the bureaucratic red tape involved in the refugee resettlement industry, which starts at the top with the United Nations.
“The refugee issue is being dealt with using [methods from] the 1940s and it’s in the hands of the U.N. and mostly government and you don’t see a lot of private sector and entrepreneurs involved,” he told Gillian Tett of the Financial Times magazine last week. “I decided we have got to hack this — we have got to bring another perspective into this issue, there are technologies that can be used.”
The Tent initiative will funnel money and technology into refugee work. Ulukaya personally made a $2 million donation last year to the U.N. High Commissioner on Refugees.
What about Americans who need jobs?
Currently refugees account for about 30 percent of the total workforce at Ulukaya’s yogurt plants. That means about 600 of Chobani’s 2,000 employees in the U.S. are foreign refugees.
“There are 11 or 12 languages spoken in our factories,” Ulukaya told Financial Times. “We have translators 24 hours a day.”
Refugee watchdog Ann Corcoran said the strategy being pushed by corporate America is done in the name of compassion but actually leaves jobless American citizens and veterans further behind.
“Take UPS, for example. Almost every county has a UPS depot, and it’s a really nice job for people who are low skilled, loading the trucks,” said Corcoran, author of the blog Refugee Resettlement Watch. “It’s kind of a job that people are willing to do. You don’t have to ship people here from the Third World to fill those jobs.”
Chobani is not a shy company
This is not the first time Chobani has turned heads with controversial moves.
Last summer, as WND reported, the company made a TV commercial featuring two lesbian women, naked and in bed eating the company’s signature Greek-style yogurt.
After graduating from Ankara University, Ulukaya came to the U.S. on a student visa in 1994 and studied at the University of Albany. He founded a feta cheese company called Euphrates in a suburb of New York in 2002. He bought an old yogurt factory in 2005 and started Chobani. He began making Turkish-style strained yogurt in 2007, which became popular in the U.S. as “Greek” yogurt.
In 2009, Ulukaya was named one of the “forty most successful entrepreneurs under 40” by the Business Review. Ulukaya’s net worth in 2013 was $5.4 billion, according to Bloomberg, and Chobani was named the top-selling yogurt brand in the U.S. Ulukaya was also named “Ernst & Young World Entrepreneur of the Year” in 2013.
Note: Readers wishing to contact Chobani Yogurt can do so by clicking here.