Bad economy does not affect job loss at Portage Industries Inc.

Caitlin Restelli

Two hundred and ten individuals with mild to severe disabilities find employment through Portage Industries Inc. Over the past few years with lay-offs increasing, not one individual has lost his or her job with the company.

“We don’t really specialize in any one area,” said Bill Whitacre, Director of Adult Services. “As long as someone has a developmental disability and a qualified diagnosis and they’re eligible for our services, we serve them at adult services.”

Due to state budget decreases, progressive funding cuts have been made over the past several years, and Phil Miller, CEO of Portage Industries Inc., said he has noticed a difference.

“We try to be real creative, and luckily we haven’t had to lay any staff off because of budget cuts,” Whitacre said.

Portage Industries receives its primary funding from the local tax dollars through tax levies and medicaid, and the budget cuts have lead to “a heavier burden on tax dollars,” however, Miller said Portage county voters still choose to help fund the program.

Whitacre said the program tries to accommodate needs of all of the individuals while they work or attend the rehabilitation center, both located at Portage Industries Inc.

“We try to mold our program around each individual person so that…we can meet what their needs are.”

Justin Bloomquist, 26, graduated from Kent State three years ago with a bachelors in computer information systems and has worked with the company for about a month. He said if it wasn’t for the company, he doesn’t think he would have a job.

“I like it a lot,” Bloomquist said. “The people are very nice to me.”

Miller said the goal of the company is to place individuals with jobs in the community. Thirty five to 40 of the 210 individuals work in local communities after Portage Industries helps them land a job.

“You always want to help a person become as independent and as much apart of their community as possible,” Miller said. “This program is designed to move people along towards as far as they can go, as far as they want to go.”

While the individual works in the community, a job coach is assigned to them to help and check in with them from time to time.

“They’re not just thrown out there, but they’re assisted…they’re provided training and then we have a follow up program so that we’re contacting the individual and the employer…every month to make sure that everything is working successfully,” Miller said.

At the Portage Industries’ location Miller secures work from outside companies and provides individuals with disabilities pay checks weekly.

Whitacre said about 10 to 12 companies utilize the Portage Industries services.

Individuals with disabilities who perform the work are paid by those companies. Their pay check vary week to week based on how much the accomplish.

Portage Industries must follow the rules set by the Department of Labor special wage an hour certificate, which allows the company to pay sub minimum wage.

Most of the work involves packaging, light assembly and shredding.

“Our strength is labor intense projects,” Miller said. “We can do that pretty competitively, price wise.”

Every time a company brings in work, Portage Industries holds time studies to see how long it would take a typical person to assemble the job and then set an hourly rate.

For example, if a job takes a person an hour to assemble 100 pieces and they get paid $8.63 for it, then that’s the normal rate. If an individual makes 50 pieces and hour, they get paid half of that and vice versa if they exceed the 100 pieces an hour.

Regardless of the disability the individual has, if work is available, it is offered.

“In many cases, even individuals that have severe physical limitations, we may try to come up with some piece of adaptive equipment or guide… that would help them be able to complete that task,” Whitacre said.

If there are not enough jobs for everyone at one time, the result is not to lay off someone.

“Because we are more than a work center, we provide those other services (vocational), so people are always welcome to come even if there is no work,” Whitacre said.

The individuals can partake in vocational activities such as physical therapy, art classes, field trips, etc. Some individuals who come to the center for just a pay check are not required to come in when there is no work. However, Miller said the company tries to have work daily for everyone who wants it.

“We’re not satisfied with not having work, so we do everything we can to provide work. That’s what we want to do,” Miller said. “Work and a paycheck is important to everyone and to us too — that’s our goal, that’s our effort”

Caitlin Restelli is a city reporter for the Daily Kent Stater.