We are a nonprofit social enterprise that specializes in providing employment training and support for populations of individuals with diverse disabilities and vocational needs. We work with community businesses to offer options for inclusive and sustainable employment.
To develop the skills of individuals with disabilities by providing opportunities for suitable, sustainable employment that result in greater independence.
Individuals with disabilities engaged in valuable work, integrated into their communities and reaching their highest potential.
The year 2019 was a time of transition and preparation to ready our organization for changes to our programs of service.
With a renewed focus on competitive employment, our divisions have undergone restructuring of staff hierarchy and optimizing of operations to best position our organization for success in finding integrated community employment options for the people we serve.
Finally, at the end of the year, we saw Marketing Factory Group, the marketing firm in which ODC is a partner owner with LaValley Industries, through a successful merger with the branding agency, Evolve Creative.
This year we made key hires and promotions at several divisions in order to better anticipate program policy changes that would go into effect in 2020.
These hires included program specialists for our Bemidji and Grand Rapids divisions, along with promoting high-performing staff into program specialist positions in International Falls, Thief River Falls, and Crookston.
In addition, production staff had some notable changes. Kacy Idso joined us as division manager in Buhl, allowing Keith Willard to focus on Bemidji instead of splitting his time between the two locations. Progress was made in optimizing production processes for both ODC Stake and Lath and Production Coating Specialties.
An exciting marketing announcement was made towards the end of 2019.
Marketing Factory Group, the Bemidji firm that has been handling ODC marketing needs for the past year, has merged with Evolve Creative, a fellow Bemidji agency that brings 15 years of proven expertise into the fold. The combined agency will continue to operate under the Evolve name.
ODC and LaValley Industries remain partners and owners of this marketing business, but the face of the agency as Managing Director is Evolve founder, Sarah Hokuf.
The expanded team consists of three graphic designers, two web developers, a videographer and content producer, along with a marketing director and additional designers to come.
With ongoing changes in program services, our focus remains on the people we serve and guiding them to employment solutions that best suit their skills and passions to foster confidence, independence and self-sustainability.
Sun, rain, storm or bitter cold—Patrick walks his three miles to work to be on time in any condition.
“I’ve come out here on mornings when we’ve had a thunderstorm, and he’s walked here,” said Beth Green, Employment Specialist at the Bemidji division, adding he’s reliable even on days of extreme subzero temps when most folks don’t dare to leave their house let alone go for a stroll.
Patrick doesn’t mind the walk. Because there is no available transportation to get him to work in time for his 5 a.m. shift, it is often his only choice. In nice weather, he’ll ride his bike.
Patrick has been working at Menards for about three and a half years. He started with stocking in the plumbing section and has since moved into janitorial. This includes mopping, sweeping, cleaning up displays and preparing them for reset. He prefers this to stocking, saying he enjoys “being able to work all over the store.”
He’s set up his own routine and has had to learn how to use a punch clock, along with the guidelines for clocking in and out for break times and the start and end of his shift.
“He’s done fabulous, he’s so successful here,” Beth said. “His coworkers speak very highly of him, and he gets along very well with everyone.”
When asked what he thinks of his coworkers, Patrick said he would give them “two thumbs up!” He and Beth also share high fives on days she comes to check in with him.
Patrick enjoys his job with Menards. Working allows him to be able to go to the movies, go bowling with friends, and travel to the state fair, Twins games, and further with another organization called Search Beyond Adventures. One year he was excited to receive a $250 Christmas bonus check.
This job has helped him improve his time management and planning skills. One of the most significant things he has learned is the importance of having a daily routine.
Cindy Gratzek has been an important part of ODC for the past 14 years. Joining the Warren division back in 2006 as an office assistant, she was promoted to Lead HTC Instructor before moving into her current role of Division Manager in 2009.
Before she started at ODC, Cindy had been working in Grand Forks for 21 years. “I just wanted to work closer to home, and that is how I came to Warren,” she said.
Warren is a small community of about 1,500 people. Thief River Falls, Crookston and Grand Forks all lie about 30 miles to the east, south and west, respectively.
“Many of the relationships that ODC has in this community existed before I came here,” Cindy said. She and other staff members have approached the maintenance of these community contacts with the same enthusiasm and attention as their predecessors, which has resulted in resounding support from many area members and organizations.
Dr. Travis Hanel, from Lone Oak Family Dentistry, makes an appearance every year for the division Christmas party, bringing gifts and goodies as jolly Santa. “Some of our individuals are patients of his; it is a very close-knit community here,” Cindy said.
This and That Thrift Store receives many quality donations of goods and apparel from businesses and individuals throughout the region.
“We get a lot of positive reception from seasonal deals that we run at the thrift store,” Cindy said. “There’s a Mother’s Day promotion, Christmas open house, and of course National Thrift Store Day in August to name a few. Debbie Rominski, an HTC Instructor here, is very good at organizing and promoting these events at the store.” The recent addition of punch card discounts has also been popular with customers.
One of the biggest recent changes that has been exciting for Cindy is the addition of Janelle Fick as Job Coach. Janelle was recently promoted this winter to Employment Specialist for Warren and Thief River Falls divisions.
“Our division never had a job coach before, as we were purely HTC. With renewed focus on driving community integrated employment options for our individuals, we welcomed Janelle to the division in late 2018,” Cindy said.
Some of the inherent struggles in this region when it comes to developing work options are the limited amount of job opportunities available in this small and rural area, along with the lack of transportation choices.
“We have several job sites in East Grand Forks and Grand Forks,” Cindy said. There are four people who are currently working in those communities, and development continues to expand in that direction. “The City of Warren has also been very supportive of job development with our individuals,” Cindy added.
Goals that Cindy has laid out for 2020 include increasing the number of individuals working in the community that are employer paid, and increasing the community involvement of individuals utilizing the division’s leisure/wellness services.
An ongoing goal for Cindy has been to consolidate operations under one roof. Currently, This and That Thrift Store and HTC are located in one building, and another site more centrally located downtown contains production operations and enclave services.
“Our enclaves provide janitorial and chore services to over 30 businesses in the community,” Cindy said. “Moving everything downtown would allow easier access to community sites like the library for the individuals in our leisure/wellness program.”
Currently, the production site houses operations for subcontracted work to be completed. Grand Forks manufacturer, PS Industries, sends several orders each month for the assembly and packaging of several hardware kits for its line of industrial doors and safety barriers.
Nordic Fiberglass, based in Warren, works with ODC for the cutting and assembly of wire conductors. Revival Animal Health, a pet care company out of Orange City, Iowa, partners with our Warren division on the design and assembly of exotic bird toys for its Great Companions subsidiary.
The longstanding relationships that ODC maintains with these businesses help to provide consistent work for several individuals on-site.
“The idea behind a new program service we will be offering is to help eligible students start planning ahead and getting everything set up for them to join the workforce and start thinking about plans for post-secondary education.
We are very excited to see how this program unfolds and if it will help the younger generation gain access to the tools they need for success.”
“We support local businesses with services that include confidential document disposal and on-demand task crews ready to fill in on short-term assignments like filling large orders for a publishing company.
My overall goal for this division is to see our persons served become an integral part of this society, to participate and be recognized for all the strengths they bring to our workforce locally.”
“We have made significant progress this year. The most important thing we have done to help this process is to acknowledge the challenges but then demonstrate the solutions.
There are so many people with untapped skills who can be the solution for local employers. This community is very involved in the non-profit sector. It wants us to succeed.”
Efforts to optimize and streamline operations have resulted in reductions in surplus inventory and faster fulfillment for our customers ranging throughout the upper midwest.
In May, we welcomed Kacy Idso as the new division manager for our Buhl division. Kacy possesses an extensive background in wood products and production management, with a strong understanding of lean manufacturing principles and procedures.
Catching up with Kacy after eight months in his position, he had a lot he was excited to share.
“Within my first three months on the job, we saw a meaningful increase in profits,” he said, which lead to a successful summer season overall.
Spending the necessary time learning the ins and outs of the Buhl facility when first coming aboard, Kacy was ready to put plans into action by June. There were opportunities identified to help cut down on work in progress and streamline production processes.
Some initiatives that helped drive these results included a reduction in inventory on hand.
“We have been working towards a true ‘build-to-order’ model instead of carrying a lot of product,” said Kacy. Overall inventory costs were reduced to under a third of what had been.
Another recent modification that aided overall efficiency was the addition of a high-speed optimization saw into the stake and lath production line.
“The saw was already on site when I started my position here, but we were able to implement and incorporate it into the current setup,” adds Kacy.
This optimized setup has improved stake and lath productivity by 25 percent, which will help drive new orders and reduce overall time to fulfillment.
“My goal for 2020 is to gain a lot of new business and grow into our capacity. The Buhl facility has a ton of potential,” said Kacy.
Specifically, there is a focus on increasing stake and lath business. In 2019 there were new customers added from South Dakota and Nebraska, and there are plans to expand market reach in 2020.
Besides stake and lath, the Buhl facility produces custom pallets and skids, cardboard boxes and components, and offers custom cut services utilizing a lumber resaw and CNC panel saw.
Minnesota Mittens got its start in 2001 after the Winona Knitting Mills closed, which had long been manufacturing mittens and hats from leftover material from their sweater production. These mittens were a favorite of the mill’s customers, so many rejoiced that these warm accessories would live on through our partnership.
At our Thief River Falls facility, the wool comes in to be washed and is then sent to be sewn into mitten shapes. The mittens then return to be flipped and stuffed before shipping out to our Roseau division to be cuffed, packaged, and shipped out to distributors and final retail destinations.
We are excited about rolling out a new email newsletter going into 2020.
Launched at the end of December, Manufacturer’s Minute is sent out monthly and covers our wide range of capabilities, including Stake and Lath, Production Coating Specialties, and custom cardboard and wood processing services offered at our Buhl facility.
The purpose of this newsletter is reach current and prospective customers and keep our expanding services top of mind. Included are updates, featured products and services, case studies and testimonials, performance statistics and seasonal promotions. Keeping people informed of our high quality offerings and raising awareness regionally will help increase our reach and future business.