An Affirmative Enterprise
Combining social and business missions, non-profit manufacturer Minnesota Diversified Industries will celebrate assembly of its 75 millionth U.S. Postal Service tote in April.
They are a common sight in mail trucks and post offices from New York to Los Angeles: corrugated white plastic reusable boxes emblazoned with the words "United States Postal Service" on either side. As the sole manufacturer of those mail totes since 1993, St. Paul-based
Minnesota Diversified Industries in April will celebrate its 75 millionth tote with open houses at each of the company's three locations in St. Paul, Grand Rapids and Hibbing.
But this celebration represents more than a business milestone; it's a social one as well. MDI was founded in 1964 as what president and CEO Peter McDermott calls an "affirmative enterprise"--a non-profit organization founded to provide a sense of pride and accomplishment
to people with disabilities that is also run like a business.
"People with disabilities have abilities. They have a significant functional limitation, be it physical or cognitive or emotional, but they have abilities to do a job just like you and I do," McDermott says. "A job is usually important to people, not just for the
financial aspect of it, but also for the self-esteem and confidence and self-worth."
Today, MDI employs 131 people at its three locations, more than half of whom have a disability. At its Hibbing location, where the plastic totes are assembled, 72 percent of MDI employees have a disability.
The company's success has been bolstered by the federal AbilityOne program, which sets aside a percentage of U.S. Government product or service purchases for completion by individuals with disabilities. MDI is 96 percent self-sufficient, relying on donations only to maintain
on-site counselors who help employees with emotional disabilities. McDermott expects self-sufficiency will continue to rise thanks to an anticipated sales increase from $10.3 million in 2010 to an estimated $11.4 million in 2011.
MDI is now also helping people with disabilities to find jobs at other employers as well with Partners2Work, a program it started in northern Minnesota last year.
"Unemployment rates are double, if not higher, for people with disabilities than they are for people without. It's just harder to find a job," McDermott says. As a consequence, the Partners2Work program tweaked MDI's mission to encompass other companies as well. "Now
we're saying we'll help those people who are suitable to work in the community to get jobs in the community and support them out there, too."