Orum Awarded National Immigration Forum’s Entrepreneur of the Year

Peter Orum, chairman of Midwest Groundcovers, LLC (IL) and past president of the American Nursery and Landscape Association (ANLA), received the National Immigration Forum’s Carvel Entrepreneur of The Year Award. Endowed in 2000 by the Thomas and Agnes Carvel Foundation, the Carvel Immigrant Entrepreneur Award is presented to an immigrant entrepreneur whose success embodies the American Dream. Midwest Groundcovers, headquartered in St. Charles, Ill., is a 700-acre production nursery employing a staff of 275 at peak season.

Orum immigrated to the United States from Denmark in 1965 and began working at the D. Hill Nursery Company in Dundee, Ill. Two years later he married Irma Herrzmann and in 1969 Peter and Irma started Midwest Groundcovers in a backyard in West Chicago. A year later they acquired five acres in St. Charles and moved the nursery there. This year the business celebrates thirty-seven successful years and now produces around 30 million plants each year.

While running the business and raising a young family, Orum attended night classes at Elgin Community College before transferring to Northern Illinois University in 1978 where he graduated with a BS in Finance. Orum talks about the early years in business and the creativity and perseverance it took to get Midwest Groundcovers off the ground. “In the beginning, friends and relatives worked for beer and hamburgers. Also, our bankers stuck their neck out and suppliers gave extended credit.”

Orum recognizes the importance of his immigrant history and his determination to his success. “What I may have accomplished obviously has to do with who I am, where I came from, what molded me, my drive and my leadership,” Orum states. Displaying characteristic humility, he also shares this accomplishment with many others. “These accomplishments are as much of those who did it with me.”

Robert Dolibois, ANLA chief staff executive, applauds the recognition. “Peter Orum is a leader who would likely find success no matter where he was, but America has offered him special opportunities. With hard work and integrity he has taken that success and generously shared it. He is also an accomplished student of American politics.”

Upon receiving his nomination for the award, Peter reflected on the current struggle for labor and immigration reform taking place in America. While the US has a long legacy as a nation of immigrants, often the newest of the newcomers have been viewed with suspicion and resentment. Today, as Congress considers the most sweeping changes to America’s immigration laws in 20 years, “seal the border” populists are working hard to capture public opinion by playing off peoples’ worst fears and turning people against one another. Still, Orum is hopeful that Congress will get beyond the harsh rhetoric and pass sensible legislation that is in the national interest. Says Orum, “America is one of the most open and friendly countries to immigrants the World has ever seen–despite some of the misgivings we see today.”

Orum finds the heated debate and polarized views on immigrant labor troubling. His desire to see resolution to this conflict has become personal. “Many years ago I learned Spanish so I could communicate better with these workers. I came to know them, I came to like them and I visited them in Mexico.”

Orum’s interest in this debate is also professional. A large part of the work force in the nursery industry, and agriculture in general, comes from Mexico and Central America. “Without them,” stresses Orum, “the industry would not exist.”

“This award is nice, but the real award would be to have the President sign a good, just and fair comprehensive immigration bill,” Orum states emphatically.

This award adds to a long list of Orum’s recognized accomplishments in the nursery and landscape industry. In addition to serving as President of ANLA, Orum has served as president of the Illinois Nurserymen’s Association, The Horticultural Research Institute (HRI) and the International Plant Propagators’ Society (IPPS). He has received IPPS Awards from the Eastern Region, Scandinavia and the international organization. Orum was also recognized as Nursery Grower of the Year in 2001 by Nursery Manager Pro, a national trade publication.

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