NEMROC changes with the times
ALPENA — The North Eastern Michigan Rehabilitation and Opportunity Center employs nearly 140 people and in order to make sure each employees hours and position are not cut, administration at the plant is always seeking new products to produce and services to sell.
It now offers gadgets such as fidget spinners, home decor products and many other useful and decorative items, as well as, cuts and treats lumber for other companies. NEMROC also is pushing further into the global market as a pair of online stores have recently opened.
CEO Dave Szydlowski said NEMROC’s number one goal is to provide employment opportunities, skill development and life tools for the more than 120 employees who have a variety of disabilities. He said in order to accomplish that, they have to be diverse. That includes offering a wider range of products, new machinery that incorporates the latest technology and involving the employees in the decision and creative process.
“Primarily for the last 30 years we have produced paint paddles, blank rulers and yardsticks. That has expanded to wood products that are laser engraved and more customized,” Szydlowski said. “We have to work hard and work smart to keep people employed. We are not only looking at new project opportunities, but also expand job opportunities.”
Szydlowski said although NEMROC is tax exempt from property and income taxes, it still must pay appropriate taxes on employee payrolls and other taxes most companies pay. He said it receives little or no government funding and private donations last year only amounted to $25,000, which is small when compared to the scale of operational costs. Szydlowski said that is why the business savvy creative product ideas and dependable and skilled employees are important to the business success.
“It is a full team effort and that is what it takes to have success and to work through the down or slow times,” he said.
Marketing Director Scott McClintic said current customers include the federal government and other businesses that utilize what is made at NEMROC to craft their own products and then sold in stores such as Menard’s. He said NEMROC also is trying to dig deeper into marketing so it can have some its own products sold in big box-type stores as well. He said the presence of new online stores not only connects customers from around the world to NEMROC, but also other retailers who may be interested in carrying the products.
“The online stores let people see an item and what we have without having to send someone here all the way from somewhere like the west coast,” McClintic said. “It allows us to connect with more people in more places.”
McClintic said the laser engraving process has big potential. He said graphics the plant has designed are etched on products to make them more decorative and personal. He said it also is an opportunity because other businesses can order products such as drink coasters, cutting boards or beverage carriers and have their logos imprinted on them, which they can in turn sell to their customers.
“It looks amazing and is a great idea, but the problem is getting them to bite,” McClintic said. “We have done some for local businesses and for special events in Alpena, but we want to expand that even further.”
Szydlowski said NEMROC is preparing for its 50th anniversary this year and it will be special to everyone, especially the employees. He said there will be some sort of celebration for the benchmark anniversary and there are several employees who will be honored for their dedication to the company.
“We will have three that will have been here for more than 40 years,” he said.
Szydlowski said the goals moving forward are similar to what they have been, to continue to provide employment opportunities for an important part of Alpena’s demographic and to continue to develop products that will be popular enough to ensure there is enough work for the crews. He said providing a safe work environment is always important, as well as paying a fair wage.
“A lot of people think our employees get paid by the piece, but that was scrapped years ago,” he said. “All of them make minimum wage or more and they spend that money in Alpena, which helps our local economy.”
Steve Schulwitz can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5689. Follow Steve on Twitter ss_alpenanews.