[NOTE: There are several significant changes to this article, explained in a note at the bottom.]
Business is about to boom at Oswego Industries, and it couldn’t be happening at a better time.
“A lot of the traditional work for a community rehabilitation program isn’t available anymore,” said Stephanie Crowley, spokesperson for Oswego Industries. The assembly and packaging work that used to be performed at facilities like Oswego Industries by people with disabilities has been shipped to low-cost countries such as China.
Oswego Industries had to cut its expenses as the work went away. Some people with disabilities stopped coming; others kept coming for rehabilitation services and worker training. “There are a lot of people on our floor who haven’t had work in longer than we’d like,” Crowley said.
But in the last few weeks, two years of efforts to refocus the business began to pay off. Oswego Industries won two significant federal contracts to provide products that will be sewn in its sewing facility. The work can’t be outsourced because of a federal law that mandates that the government buy products made in America if they can be made to the government’s specifications.
“The way to survive is to find a niche market,” Crowley said. “Fortunately for us, textiles is a good market for us.”
Relatively few community rehabilitation programs have textiles departments, she said, adding that other programs have called to ask if Oswego Industries can share work with them. On the way we visited, workers sat at aged Singer sewing machines, making vestments for priests, cloth bags, and hospital gowns. A supervisor was putting snaps onto slots in standard hospital gowns, to turn them into gowns that can be used for patients receiving intravenous fluids.
Oswego Industries has to gear up, and fast, for these two federal contracts. They both must be delivered within several months. Crowley said OI is buying equipment and looking for grants to be able to buy more. As word has gotten around about the new contracts, the phone has begun to ring with people wondering whether there will be new jobs.
There will be.
Oswego Industries will hire about 40 people for these two contracts, and for the federal work that they hope will result from these contracts. Many of those hired will not be people with disabilities. Facilities like Oswego Industries can have as much as 25% of its workforce come from the community. Crowley said about 10% of the people who will work on the two contracts do not have disabilities.
She said the initial deadlines on the two contracts will be met by a mix of clients who already have training in textiles and employees who are members of the community.Ã‚Â Other clients will be used in related areas such as packaging and shipping while some receive training that will eventually allow them to work directly on the textiles contracts.
“There will be plenty of work for everybody,” she said.
Oswego Industries holds a jobs fair on Wednesday from 5:00 – 7:00 p.m. at its facility on Morrill Place in Fulton to discuss the jobs that are available at OI and at sister facility ARC of Oswego County. Call 598-3108 for more information.
[NOTE: This article is changed from its original form.Ã‚Â Assembly and packaging work was done solely by people with disabilities; when Oswego Industries reduced its expenses because of the loss of contracts, clients who continued to come continued to receive vocational rehabilitation and job training, even if there was no paying work for them; we’ve clarified the percentage of people without disabilities working on the two contracts; we’ve clarified that the initial work on the textiles contracts will be performed not just by newly-hired members of the community, but also by clients who already have textiles training.Ã‚Â We thank Stephanie Crowley of Oswego Industries for helping us to make these clarifications.]