By Bob Zaruta, President/CEO, NWIRC

Manufacturers in our region are resilient without question. This is demonstrated time and again, but most recently as companies emerged from pandemic challenges, navigate supply chain bottlenecks, and struggle to find and keep employees. I recently traveled to McKean County to explore a manufacturer of a different sort – one that is every bit as resilient and innovative as the typical manufacturing company.

Futures Rehabilitation Center (FRC), located in Bradford PA, is a non-profit organization dedicated to assisting adults with disabilities by offering a variety of services, including vocational training, socialization, and education. Their Community Participation Support (CPS) programs help participants build networks, foster relationships, independence, and find employment opportunities. At the core of FRC is their Vocational Work Center providing work skills training for competitive employment opportunities. And, by the way, FRC is also a manufacturer.

In fact, NWIRC’s Strategic Business Advisor Tom Weible recently helped FRC obtain manufacturing-related NAICS codes (The North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) – a numeric coding system that federal statistical agencies use to classify businesses). While they are considered a social service organization, having the manufacturing NAICS codes enables them to benefit from a variety of services from organizations like NWIRC, as well as federal and state programs – such as PA WEDnet for training dollars for their manufacturing segment.

So, how can they be classified as a manufacturer? According to FRC President/CEO, Steve Morgan, “Manufacturing and assembly is happening in our Work Center, everyone in Bradford knows us for that.” Steve told me that FRC works with numerous industrial partners in the region for work that is negotiated at a contracted rate, often at a ‘price per piece’. Their workforce (FRC participants), in turn, earns a paycheck for the work they do. Their 100+ qualified production workers take great pride in the work they are doing while earning wages. At the same time, they are receiving valuable training for potential employment opportunities in the community. The Work Center has more than 30,000 sq. ft. of production space and delivers with a 26-foot box truck within a 50-mile radius. Their capabilities include assembly, labeling & packaging, quality control inspection, and construction of pallets and crates. Some of their largest customers include Zippo, Case Cutlery, and American Refining Group. They also have a contract with UniqueSource to be the original equipment manufacturer of dry-erase and bulletin boards that are sourced to office supply companies, such as WB Mason.

For more than 50 years, FRC has provided local businesses and industries in the surrounding area with a dependable workforce to help customers meet their needs. They boast benefits of having a quick response time and saving companies time and money. Just like other manufacturers in the region, they are resilient and press on through any challenges that come their way – they are resilient across the board.

Leaders and staff – They all believe in FRC’s mission of helping adults with disabilities live fulfilling, happy lives, be an active part of the community in McKean County, and contribute to society in a meaningful way. They pivot and pitch-in wherever and whenever needed in order to secure work for participants and help with projects.

Innovation – Outside the box thinking was evident as I toured their facility and saw work in progress. They developed a special machine for one of their jobs – cutting tubes to create efficiency and also constructed fixturing for plastic oil bottles in order to apply the label in the exact spot every time.

Scouting new markets – The team at FRC are always on the lookout for new projects. Developing relationships with local industry partners is key to their success and working with organizations (like NWIRC) who can help spread the work about their capabilities. Also tying in with innovation, they are starting to explore developing their own product or service for sustainability when other work is slow.

Quality – As with any manufacturing company, they have to scrap pieces when quality isn’t up to par – but they monitor and adjust as needed to ensure quality meets their customers’ expectations, every time.

Navigating supply chain – Supply chain issues created by the pandemic affected production of the products they manufacture from start to finish (dry-erase and bulletin boards). Like many manufacturers, there were 7-8 month lead times for the materials needed – so work slowed down. Their team needed to pivot to find jobs to replace this meaningful work.

Financial resiliency – The leadership team knows where every dollar is coming from and where every dollar goes. Their funding comes primarily from Medicaid programs and donations, but also from customer payments for their manufacturing work. They look to breakeven – with the ultimate goal of having “work that requires many hands” for all different ranges of skill-levels.

Production workforce – FRC’s workforce challenge is a little different than most manufacturers today. They have a strong production team ready and able, but when project work is slow and meaningful work isn’t available – workers often choose not to show up at the Center that day. The downside of this is that these participants are then missing out on the valuable training and socialization they get, even when they aren’t working on a customer’s job.

The bottom line from my trip to FRC and observations of the work being done…is the remarkable resiliency of their participants. Despite facing challenges, they are overcoming their individual obstacles, contributing in valuable ways to the community, and are truly part of the manufacturing supply chain. They’re also very eager to work, so consider FRC for a future project!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Photos are from Futures Rehabilitation Center of participants in their Vocational Work Center.