The Arc, Oneida-Lewis serves people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in central and northern New York. As part of its mission, this community-based organization provides employment opportunities for the people it serves through Progress Industries, an integrated workshop specializing in assembly, packaging, and kitting. Today, Progress Industries employs people in Utica, operates a 43,000-sq. ft. warehouse in Marcy, and maintains a facility in Lewis County that performs light manufacturing. All three locations are busy, but are also eager to do more.
“We have the capability and desire to take on more manufacturing work,” says Louis Manzo, director of business development. “We are willing to work with customers to purchase machines based on need,” he adds, “and can source materials for them.” Because of new requirements, organizations that once operated as “sheltered workshops” must change their business models. To achieve this transformation, Progress Industries is working with the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) network.
Meeting Demand and Ready to Do More
In Utica, Progress Industries houses a high-speed shrink wrap assembly machine that can process thousands of operations per day. “One application,” Manzo explains, “is for a book distributor who needs to put several books together for shipment.” The Utica location also has band sealing and inserting equipment. Manzo’s office is in Utica, but he’s also focused on finding opportunities for the Marcy and Lewis County operations.
At the warehouse in Marcy, workers perform kitting for a food and beverage manufacturer. Bottles are shipped to the facility and then put into cardboard boxes for distribution. The warehouse also separates and salvages plastic and metal parts that would otherwise add to the customer’s waste stream. Contract-based funding supported the opening of this warehouse last fall, but the facility still has available space. “With more work,” Manzo says, “we could have another full-time assembly line running there.”
In Lewis County, employees use bandsaws and jigsaws to cut pieces of plastic and perform other light manufacturing tasks. Manzo would like to find more customers for this rural workshop, but the goal is “more growth plus more steady work.” In total, Progress Industries has approximately 60 customers; however, a subset of companies provides most of the opportunities. “Warehousing can be an entry point,” Manzo says, but “many people don’t realize we can provide true manufacturing and assembly work, too.”
Transformations and Partnerships
To pursue its goals, the Arc, Oneida-Lewis took advantage of an opportunity from the New York State Rehabilitation Association (NYSRA), now part of the New York Alliance for Inclusion and Innovation. As a NYSRA member, The Arc was eligible to receive consulting services through its local MEP center, the Advanced Institute of Manufacturing (AIM) in Utica. Everton Henriques, FuzeHub’s New York MEP solutions director, visited Manzo and helped facilitate this connection. Cory Albrecht, AIM’s director, then met with The Arc’s executive team along with AIM’s Sean Crossnan.
After the initial discovery phase was complete, The Arc engaged Bob Dunn, an AIM consultant with decades of business development experience. “Now,” Manzo explains, “we can directly target companies instead of waiting for businesses to come us.” Business transformations can be challenging, but Manzo recognized The Arc’s new requirements as a “good opportunity to determine not just how we can do things better, but how we can grow.”
For Manzo, who left a job in insurance to begin his Arc career at Progress Industries six years ago, the business transformation has been rewarding in many ways. “The evolution,” as he calls it, has deepened his involvement in both production and pricing. The Arc, Oneida-Lewis has also won government contracts at both the state and federal levels. “We had to transform our business,” Manzo says, “to become more integrated into the community.”