Sunday, August 5, 2012

Sunborne Nursery creates jobs

To find one of Bayview Hunters Point's most vibrant and community-serving businesses, be sure to enter through the correct gate and find the gravel road.

No wonder the average San Franciscan isn't familiar with Sunborne Nursery, even though the business has been in the same location since 1989 and supplies indoor plants to clients coast to coast.

Sunborne is one of a triplet of independent businesses, along with Decorative Plant Service and SF Foilage, tucked behind the Southeast Community Facility and City College on Oakdale at Phelps.

Once found, Sunborne Nursery's facility proves to be a vast oxygen-rich world of green plants and busy people. It's a world that includes workers who have found the first rung on the employment ladder with an assist from Sunborne and Young Community Developers (a 39-year-old training organization located at 1715 Yosemite Avenue).

"We've developed a great employment program for local Bayview Hunters Point Youth," said Eli Goldman, Sunborne Vice President, "and we've done it without duplicating other services."

Eli's commitment to local hiring is clear. His eyes lit up, during a recent tour of Sunborne's facility, when he talked about being a regular guest instructor in Young Community Developers' Job Readiness Training Program.

Sunborne has hired twenty YDC graduates over the past two years.

"I want other local businesses to know about this program, and to hire local graduates when jobs become available," Eli said.

Eli points out that students in workforce development programs need more than just training. They need practical experience and real job prospects.

"Businesses like ours can be the missing link in professional development," he said. "After we have provided specialized training, many of our employees go on to jobs with our customers."

In a neighborhood where unemployment rates soar, Sunborne is a scarce entrypoint into meaningful employment.

"Many of the YCD graduates we hire have little or no job experience," Eli said. "Some may have criminal backgrounds that impact their ability to find jobs. We do not hold these things against them."

Sunborne's willingness look beyond what may be deal-breaking details for many employers has served not just job-seekers, but the business too.

"We are a business first and foremost," Eli said, "not a charity. Our new employees understand that they need to quickly learn the basics and become a productive part of our work."

That's okay with Clarence Cook who is well aware that he stands to gain more than basic skills from adding Sunborne to his resume. As he talks about his experience trying to find work, a moving story of frustration and gratitude emerges.

"Whether or not I end up doing this kind of work for the rest of my life, I'm glad to have this chance. I tried getting a job at Lowes and lots of other places. I never got anywhere until I met Eli at YDC."

Clarence and Felix Arroyo are both YDC graduates. Working together, they share an air of optimism about the future, even as Christopher explains how negative stereotypes of the neighborhood and the people who live here so often stand in the way of getting a job.

"Now I feel like I have a chance to make a life here in my neighborhood," Clarence said.

"We need them as much as they need us," Eli said.

It's a real advantage to a business when employees live nearby and can get to work quickly when something unexpected comes up, He explained. Other advantages to hiring through YDC include the chance to screen out individuals that would clearly not be a good fit and eliminate wasted training time.

Sunborne Nursery's owners hope to change the minds of other local business owners, including large employers like Lennar Urban, who may think that the kind of training and hiring happening at Sunborne is a drain on resources. They believe that, as long as the employer and employee are clear about expectations, community-minded training and hiring practices can actually boost the bottom line.

Sunborne Nursery operates in commercial space leased from the SF Public Utilities Commission under an agreement to provide a percentage of its jobs to residents of the Bayview.

"We have always complied with this requirement," Eli said. "But a few years ago we made to decision to hire exclusively from the Bayview for our greenhouse positions, and to funnel as many jobs as possible to graduates of the YCD program."

That's good news for Bayview Hunters Point job seekers, and an unusual example for other local businesses.

Sunborne Nursery is located at 1150 Phelps Street. Contact Eli by email or call 415.821.7726.

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