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ACTIVISM : Business Owner Is Nuts About Immigration Issue

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SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The issue of illegal immigration is one tough nut to crack, but Patsy Flanigan is doing what she can to change laws that discourage small businesses from hiring immigrant workers.

Owner of Flanigan Farms, a nut distribution company in Culver City, Flanigan was one of the Southern California delegates chosen to attend the White House Conference on Small Business last month. She was elected by other local small business owners, who support her belief that immigrants--with or without documentation--should be allowed to work in the United States.

The immigration issue was eliminated from the list of topics submitted to President Clinton for consideration, but Flanigan said her passion has not faded.

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Many immigrants are living in the United States in poverty, and U.S. businesses dependent on low-cost labor are suffering as a result of the nation’s growing sentiment against illegal immigrants, she argues.

Flanigan attempts to follow immigration law by checking the papers of the workers she hires, but one can never be sure the paperwork is legitimate, she said.

While Flanigan was admittedly a newcomer to Washington’s political scene, she is a veteran at operating a small business.

Flanigan began the business with her husband, Owen, who died of cancer in 1992. The idea for the nut distribution firm was born after Owen lost his job as a mechanical engineer, prompting the couple to go into business for themselves.

“At the time there were few natural foods--it was just the beginning of the health food craze,” she said. “We decided we wanted to do a healthy snack.”

The Flanigans started in Santa Monica, making and selling homemade granola. Born in Scotland to Irish parents, her husband was a “charming” salesman, his personality helping to make the company profitable within five years, Flanigan said.

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By that time, the couple had found that making granola was too labor-intensive, so they began making trail mix instead. Two of their varieties--Nuts’N’Things and the Fitness Snack--are now patented.

When customers began asking the Flanigans to sell the trail mix ingredients separately, the couple began distributing nuts--unsalted and shelled. Although the company still sells trail mix, nuts represent the largest part of the business.

Today, Flanigan Farms sells 32 varieties of nut packages, and millions of packages a year (though Flanigan declined to reveal the exact number). The 10-employee company distributes its products in about 500 supermarkets in California and in Las Vegas.

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