American dream: New Jersey-area flooring industry dominated by Brazilian immigrants
It’s 5:30 a.m. in Long Branch and Broadway and the nearby side streets and parking lots are bustling as hundreds of construction vans are loaded with workers, supplies and Brazilian pastries and coffee.
All of these work crews – except for a handful – are all in the same business – wood flooring. Anyone traveling on the Garden State Parkway who may see a van that says “wood floors” on the side can almost guarantee that it is headed to or from Long Branch. And it is also almost guaranteed that the crews in those vans are of Brazilian descent.
Over the past 20 years, the area around Long Branch has become the regional hub of the flooring industry. First it was wood floors and now other types of flooring, fueled by an influx of immigrants from Brazil who have followed one another to work in the industry. The days are long and hard and the commutes are brutal.
Renato Coupo and his crew were heading to Newburgh, New York – a 2.5-hour drive. Matthew Marcus was commuting to Philadelphia.
It is a story that happens often in America – immigrant communities come to dominate certain business sectors. Immigrants arrive, get a job, recruit their friends and family and everyone tries to work their way into the middle class. There are Greek diners, Irish police officers, Chinese laundromats and Vietnamese nail salons. And now in Long Branch, Brazilian floor installers.
“It’s the community, you know? My friends teach me and I teach other friends. That’s how it works,” says Coupo.
It is not really known who the first Brazilian immigrant was who got into the flooring business in New Jersey. But there are now many companies in the area.
According to the Migration Policy Institute, New Jersey had the third largest Brazilian immigrant population in the nation in 2017 with about 30,000. New Jersey was behind only Florida, Massachusetts and California.