Speakers: Raymond Lahoud, Juan Martinez
Welcome to Norris Speaks, Immigration Matters, a limited podcast delving into the economic employment, business, and cultural immigration realities of the Lehigh Valley in greater Pennsylvania. I am your host, Ray Lahoud, member and chair of the immigration group at Norris McLaughlin. On this episode, I am joined by my good friend, Juan Martinez of Martinez Hospitality and a multitude of other businesses across the Lehigh Valley, to talk about immigration, the Lehigh Valley economy, and what he sees in the future of immigration for our region. Juan has been a good friend for some time, and over the years has truly, truly become a leader in our Lehigh Valley business community in so many different respects. So good to have him here today! His business acumen started in the Dominican Republic. Juan is a proud immigrant to the United States. As I said, he came here and put together and lived and developed his American dream in the Lehigh Valley. Juan, really good to have you here. It’s been some time since I’ve seen you. It’s really good to talk to you today, And hopefully after this whole COVID situation is over, we’ll be able to meet up at some point. But how are you doing? How’s everything going?
Ray, thank you for having me here. Everything is going well, thank God. It has been a crazy ride in the past two years — you know, with the COVID — but we’ve continued to be optimistic. We are in the Lehigh Valley. It’s a region in which there’s a lot of economic opportunity and economic growth, and coming from what I come from, what I definitely see is the opportunity You know, right after college, I was living in Washington, D.C.
Let’s go back, so you were born in the Dominican Republic. Right?
Give us some of that background here. That’s really important because, you know, that’s the fabric of who you are. You’re an American here and, you know, tell us about that. And that’s where your business sense started from.
So yeah, you know, I was born and raised in Santo Domingo, the capital of Dominican Republic, since a very young age. I come from an entrepreneurial family. My grandparents, they had supermarkets in the Dominican Republic, and my grandmother also had a little lending business. So growing up, I was …
She was a banker.
Yeah, yeah, a private banker.
So, you know, my father was a mechanic. He has his own mechanic shop. So I knew when I got older, I was gonna be a business owner. So at the age of 16, I had an opportunity to come to America and really embrace the American culture and all the opportunities that this wonderful country has to offer. So it’s been a great ride, man.
How much of a drive does, you know, seeing what living in the Dominican Republic is like compared to what living in the United States is like, how much did that give you a drive?
Absolutely. Sometimes I hear people here in America complaining, like, it’s really tough, we’re poor. But it’s all relative, because when you go back to where I come from, you know, people here, the poorest people in America, don’t even know that level of poverty. And I’m just so grateful to be in America and to be given the opportunity that this great country has to offer, because in my country it’s really tough. There’s a lot of government, unfortunately, corruption. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how talented you are. It doesn’t matter how smart you are and how driven if you don’t have a government connection. That’s my experience. You know, you can’t advance in life.
That’s not the way it should be.
Cause if you’re doing everything the right way and because –. You know, you came to the United States, you said you were 16. You have how many restaurants right now in the Lehigh Valley?
We own eight restaurant properties right now in the Lehigh Valley. I run and operate actively five of them. So, yeah.
And then you have a storage facility, I just saw, you opened up. You delve into these different business opportunities. You’re also — it’s not just restaurants to you. You’re all over the place. And you’ve also, honestly, become a speaker, you know, a motivational speaker in so many different respects, for the people in the Lehigh Valley with that focus on employee retention. So how do you retain employees?
You know, when I was in college, I did an internship in Disney World, and it was all about the way they do business and their focus on diversity and focusing on people. Then after college, I was involved with the Bank of America manager trainee program, and I noticed how much they invest in their people. So I kind of took that mindset from an employer standpoint and brought it into my business. Okay. So since the very beginning, I’m a big believer investing in my people. We do weekly managers’ meetings on my literacy team. I’m consistently picking their brains and getting involved and engaged in the decisions about our business. So that kind of gives them some ownership, what we do from a restaurant perspective standpoint, you know, what my retention rate on my key people is — you know, we’re at 80% in an industry level, maybe 10%. So we do a lot of things for our employees. You know, we send them to seminars, do a lot of Christmas events, summer events, weekly recognition, a lot of training. I’m big in training. And I think, you know, when they come from other companies — I know in the restaurant companies that’s unheard of, unless you are a really big company. So doing what we’re doing in a small business, that we are, people see the value of it. And they’ve seen the growth that we have experienced in the past five, ten years, and it’s a beautiful thing. They see the value. I’m all about adding value to my people.
It’s about the long-term, keeping them there for a long time, you know, training them, developing them, you know, as I look at that. So we do have a workforce shortage in the United States and, you know, I deal with a lot of employment-based immigration. And as you look at that, how do you feel about the employment-based immigration system in the United States on the ability to bring people here that are qualified and work in positions that you’re offering?
My belief is America, it’s a country of immigrants. If you look at almost anybody, you know, they could tell you, well, my grandparents came from Germany or Lebanon,
Or Dominican Republic, you know, we’re a nation built on immigration. That’s the foundation of this beautiful and great country America. So having said that, I think right now the system is broken when it comes to allowing immigrants to come in the right way. And I’m part of the restaurant association. And right now, I know we have, are working on, uh, legislation to make it easier for immigrants to come to America and be able to work in the hospitality and construction industry.
And come – temporary, just to work, pay their taxes and go back and come back. I mean, they’re willing to do some of this work from hospitality to farming to construction, particularly. So they’re willing to come in, even if it’s temporary, and go back to their home country and they could pay taxes there. So it could add a lot to our community in terms of filling that workforce shortage.
Absolutely. I look at the new generation, you know, like for example, my youngest son, he’s 12. He loves his IT and computers, and he works and helps us in the restaurant business. But his heart is on the computer, and the IT, and coding. So, the new generation.
That’s a good thing, that’s a great thing. That’s a great thing.
It is. Absolutely. But you know, you also have those industry, like, you know, general laborers and construction and the restaurant. And we still need to feed people. We need to build things. We don’t have the manpower nationally to keep up with the demand that is there, and continuing, too.
The demand of the U.S. citizens who are willing to spend money, who are investing in the economy and the like.
Absolutely. I mean, you’ll have those IT kids making six, seven figures. They’re buying stuff. They’re building stuff. They’re growing their companies. So when you look at the whole macroeconomic view, they need places to eat. They need more buildings to be built. But we don’t have …
Landscapers, all kind of work like that, all types of immigration. It’s merit-based, it’s professional, it’s skilled and unskilled labor. It’s a mix of totality, which makes an entire economy.
Absolutely. Hopefully, you know, we are able as a nation to figure out a way to keep up with the demand. And I know, being an immigrant — I remember when I was 16 years of age. There was nothing I wanted more than to be in America. You know, it was like a dream. And you know, when you’re an immigrant, the spirit of just being here, there’s nothing like it. You just want to take over the world. You’re just grateful to be in America and be able to work hard and provide for your family. You know, most of us come here hungry. To do better. And get better. I think others, millions of millions of people, good people, that are just waiting for that opportunity. Just like I was when I was a youngster.
And we could bring in the right way. If our members of Congress and people had comprehensive immigration reform, the system has been broken 20 years now. And members of Congress just haven’t done anything. We’ve had presidents who just use band-aids to correct or resolve problems temporarily. It comes down to real comprehensive immigration reform that includes a good, merit-based immigration system that has employees coming here for all kinds of work, restaurants, hospitality, and working on farms, you know, attorneys, IT, all types of employees for our growing economy.
And I’m sure, you being an immigration attorney, you know, that not only the United States where the people immigrating. It’s a win-win for everybody, you know. A lot of other immigrants come in with a strong work ethic, you know.
Clearly immigration, you know, orderly immigration. I mean, there’s a lot of stuff happening at the border, you know, which may cross the line depending on how people stand politically and the like. But when it comes down to it, we really need an orderly immigration system that solves the problem that we’re just talking about right now.
Absolutely, orderly immigration, you know, I remember going through the process of me getting my papers straight. It took a long time. My parents, you know, they were green card holders and they petitioned for me when I was a kid, but the whole process took like eight years, you know.
They don’t call them green cards anymore, they, uh, uh,
They don’t want, they don’t have that?
Well, they call them lawful permanent resident cards. Everybody still refers to them as green cards, and they haven’t been green since 1978. It’s funny. Cause my mom had one of the ones that didn’t expire when she first moved here from Lebanon in 1977, and it was green back then, but we still refer to them. That’s the immigration term, the green card one. Juan, it has been incredible to have you here. I mean, as I had said to you, you have built a true reputation as a business leader in the Lehigh Valley and beyond. You’ve been recognized across the country for what you do. And you’re just starting, which is incredible. Your kids are just starting. You’re just starting to build here and you’re not leaving, which is awesome. And you know, I love working with you and really want to thank you for being here today. Thank you so much, Thank you.
My pleasure. My pleasure.
This has been Norris Speaks, Immigration Matters, a limited podcast series where we delve into the economic employment and cultural realities of immigration in the Lehigh Valley and greater Pennsylvania. I want to thank my guest, Juan Martinez, and you the listener for being a part of this conversation. Be sure to tune in to our next podcast for a brand-new episode. And if you would like to learn more about immigration law, visit our website @ www.nationalimmigrationlawyers.com.