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Political demagogues portray immigrants from Central America as disease-ridden criminals here to enjoy the comforts of the welfare state.

Demagogues, meet Marlon and Carlos Reyes, who have a cheese factory in Columbus that employs 10 people.

The brothers left their home in Honduras four years ago with not much more than a business plan and their family’s cheese recipes, as reported by Tyler Ellyson last week.

Today, their cheese factory, Central America Foods, is Grade A certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The business, which started production in October 2013, makes four products: queso seco, a dry cheese similar to Parmesan; queso fresco, a creamier, softer cheese similar to mozzarella; queso fresco with jalapeno and bell peppers added; and the Central American-style sour cream that’s richer and more acidic than the traditional American version.

They have a contract to sell about 80,000 pounds of product to Global Garlic, a Miami-based distributor of Hispanic foods, and are in the process of finalizing other contracts for other products such as Central American-style sour cream and Mexican cheeses.

“We already knew the market was here. We didn’t know it was so big,” said Marlon Reyes.

The entrepreneurial spirit displayed by the immigrant brothers from Honduras is no exception. A study released in 2012 by the Fiscal Policy Institute found that 18 percent of small businesses in the United States are owned by immigrants, although immigrants make up only 13 percent of the overall population.

As with any new business, the energy that the cheese factory brings to the community sends positive ripples through the local and state economy. For example, Central American Foods buys its milk from Prairieland Dairy of Firth and Dairy Farmers of America.

The Reyes brothers found local Nebraskans to help them realize their American dream. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln Food Processing Center helped revise the family’s cheese recipes to use pasteurized rather than raw milk. The Columbus City Council gave them a $91,000 loan. US Bank and the Northeast Economic Development District agreed to provide lines of credit.

At the heart of the enterprise are that familiar drive and ambition that immigrants have been bringing to America throughout its history. Marlon Reyes often arrives at the factory at 3 a.m. and does not leave until the evening hours. That’s something to remember the next time a demagogue spouts off.

This editorial first appeared in the Lincoln Journal Star.


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