FuzeHub is helping social enterprises with manufacturing capabilities throughout New York State to improve operations and identify new opportunities. Historically, social enterprises that employed workers with disabilities have received significant funding from Medicaid, a federal and state insurance program for vulnerable populations. The Medicaid dollars enabled the workshops, as these social enterprises were then known, to provide services and supports offering vocational readiness and training services through job opportunities to workers with disabilities and subsidized manufacturing to business customers.
Social enterprises have historically seen themselves as social service agencies rather than manufacturers, but Medicaid Transformation required a change in thinking. Medicaid Transformation in New York, a recent requirement directing that providers reconsider how people with intellectual and developmental disabilities should receive employment services and supports allowed under Medicaid funding, has disrupted the social enterprises’ business model. Before this directed transformation, a workshop could pay less attention to actual manufacturing costs because of the Medicaid revenue offset to the program’s bottom line as a provider of services. Now, a social enterprise focused on business operations must track costs more closely in order to remain competitive while still providing diverse vocational opportunities.
FuzeHub, the statewide Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) center for New York State, is part of a national network whose mission is to help small-to-medium sized manufacturers succeed and grow. With help from FuzeHub and other MEP centers, social enterprises are transforming themselves.
FuzeHub’s NY MEP Solutions Director, Everton H. Henriques, has been instrumental in this process. Several years ago, Henriques met Jill Dorsi of the New York State Rehabilitation Association (NYSRA), now known as the New York Alliance for Inclusion and Innovation, at a SUNY New Paltz event. Subsequently, Dorsi introduced Henriques to then NYSRA’s Pat Dowse, who was working with member workshops as they sought to meet transformation requirements from the NYS Office for People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD).
Dowse inquired as to how FuzeHub could provide assistance across the state to organizations that offered contract manufacturing work to people with disabilities. Together the partners developed a project in which FuzeHub would train the state’s regional MEP centers to work with social enterprises to recognize their full manufacturing capacity. The then NYSRA had received a transformation grant to pay for this technical assistance and, under this same award, asked FuzeHub to engage social enterprises that had successfully completed a business transformation readiness assessment. This “yardstick” indicated whether workshops were ready to work with their regional MEP centers focused on true manufacturing operations.
Social enterprises that demonstrated readiness were interviewed by FuzeHub and underwent a business assessment with their regional MEP centers. The purpose of this assessment was to help the social enterprises determine if they had a viable, sustainable contract manufacturing business. Those that did then worked with their regional MEP centers on projects that supported their transformation away from
Medicaid revenue to pure contract manufacturing revenue. Some of these MEP directed projects were funded by the transformation project while others were self-funded by the social enterprise.
FuzeHub also made recommendations for manufacturing-related improvements and introduced social enterprises to potential customers who were seeking connections to contract manufacturers. FuzeHub continues to offer technical support to these organizations and their transforming businesses, maintaining close relationships with them.
Since June 2017, FuzeHub and the New York State Alliance for Inclusion and Innovation (formerly NYSRA) as partners have assisted over 10 social enterprises to improve business operations and identify new opportunities as they succeed and grow. Today, New York State’s statewide MEP center stands ready to help similar organizations.