Creating opportunities for immigrant communities in Southern Minnesota
For more than 50 years, Apogee’s architectural glass brand, Viracon, has played an integral role not only in shaping remarkable skylines across the globe, but creating a meaningful – and lasting – impact within its own community in Southern Minnesota.
A single-source resource for high-performance architectural glass products, Viracon’s products can be seen in cities throughout the world – from skyscrapers in Dubai to office towers in New York, to gold adorned facades in Las Vegas. Standing behind these state-of-the-art technologies and glass solutions is a company steadfast in its commitment to creating meaningful opportunities at the local level.
“We know the tremendous economic value we bring to the area and work hard to take care of our people,” explained Jim Wendorff, Vice President of Human Resources.
Welcoming in a broader audience
In 2019, the company focused on creating more economic opportunity by engaging immigrant communities. This began by engaging with an “elder group” of long-term, influential Somali employees who spoke highly of Viracon’s values and culture. With Somali immigrants being predominantly Muslim, the elder group visited area mosques where they introduced the company and its opportunities.
In addition, the team recruited workers from Puerto Rico, many of whom were seeking to escape the devastating effects of the 2017 hurricanes. Housing presented an immediate challenge, but the team identified housing options with a former college in Owatonna with underutilized dormitories that offered temporary housing. Through this effort, Viracon now employs 75 people relocated from Puerto Rico.
Meeting the needs of a diverse employee population
As a result of these efforts, Viracon quickly ushered in an increasingly diverse employee population. In addition to Somalis and Puerto Ricans, they also began to hire recent immigrants from Southeast Asia. With these new employees, four languages were being spoken in the company’s Owatonna facility. This meant hiring translators and adapting communications to reach a diverse audience.
In addition to language, the team had to consider religious and cultural factors, particularly with Somalian immigrants who practice Islam. To accommodate their religious practices, Viracon constructed a new prayer room, complete with washing stations.
Delivering benefits for both the business and community
These efforts have made Viracon the “employer of choice” among immigrant communities in southern Minnesota. “They want an employer that treats them well – that recognizes and supports their cultural and religious practices, while providing a competitive wage and benefits. We’ve pulled out all the stops to assure them of that,” explained Vice President of Human Resources Jim Wendorff. “We’ve had people show up at our door who’ve driven all the way from Texas because a relative spoke highly of the opportunities at Viracon.”
He continued, “We know that many of our people are here to provide for their families, and we are committed to helping them do so by offering competitive wages and strong benefits.” Viracon has more than 1,000 employees in Owatonna, making it one of the largest employers in Southern Minnesota. By providing job opportunities in the area and investing money back in the community, Viracon actively contributes to the economic prosperity of the entire region—well beyond Owatonna. This diverse and talented team takes great pride in their contributions to the community and in providing glass for many of the world’s most recognizable buildings.