GREENVILLE, SOUTH CAROLINA — America is often called “The Land of Opportunity.” And in 2011 alone, more than a million immigrants became permanent residents on the path to citizenship. Many come to the U.S. to escape hardships where they live, and some to give their children better opportunities. But for those with an entrepreneurial spirit, the United States sometimes helps them realize their dreams. And when that happens, it can change other people's lives as well.
What you’re looking at is the 'American Dream.' Ali Saifi left Iran nearly 40 years ago to start a life in the United States.
“It’s a most interesting country because it allows you to do what you want to do,” he said.
What he wanted to do was open a restaurant. So in 1981 he did just that, acquiring a Subway franchise in Greenville, South Carolina.
“This is the very first Subway that we opened in Greenville 30 years ago,” said Saifi as he shows the store.
Today he has more than 400 stores.
“400 restaurants employ nearly 4,000 people.”
The payroll for those 4,000 people is an estimated $40 million. And the taxes they pay on that money are about $6 million.
“Then there’s a significant amount of non-direct employees. The food distributor. The truck driver. The packers. All of these people that we buy products from and they deliver to us,” said Saifi.
That’s the other part of the American Dream. The dream that one man’s success can help others realize their dreams, too.
“This store is a lot more to me than just my job. It’s kind of part of my life,” said Lakim Campbell, who manages one of the Subway restaurants for Saifi.
She joined Subway a couple of years ago as an employee earning the minimum wage.
“Three months after starting I became pregnant, and I was out three weeks and I came back. I started right back where I left off,” she said.
Campbell worked her way up to a manager's job.
And with management, came benefits like paid vacations, paid sick days, and healthcare.
“It was really great for me. To be able to get insurance, to be able to go to the doctor whenever I need to, and not whenever I could afford to,” she said.
And not just for Campbell, but health benefits for her newborn child, and a roof over both of their heads. Now, multiply that by 4,000, and that’s the type of impact this one man has had.
But not every shop Saifi opens is a financial success.
“He was willing to take a chance on a restaurant that perhaps profits were going to take a second place to people,” said Crystal Hardesty. She’s the regional marketing director for Goodwill Industries. It's a non-profit organization that trains people for low paying, entry level jobs.
Saifi helped Goodwill open a Subway restaurant within the store to prepare people for jobs in the food service industry.
“A lot of us see a job as something simple. Perhaps we take it for granted. But for a lot of people that really is something that they perhaps thought was unattainable, and, when they have that, it really changes their whole outlook on life,” said Hardesty.
“They train people less fortunate than the rest of us… the people that you and I would typically not hire. With a checkered past or maybe abused, battered women. This is an entity that gives you a hand up, not a handout,” said Saifi.
During its 2012 fiscal year, the Greenville Goodwill helped find jobs for nearly 7,300 people - people who otherwise might have depended on taxpayer-funded assistance programs. Instead, they collectively earned more than $75 million. All because of help from one man who came to the United States chasing his own dream.