Voice of the Modern Manufacturing Economy Since 2013

Mile High WorkShop

by Chris Meehan on June 5, 2016, 07:02 pm MDT

www.milehighworkshop.org

Englewood, Colorado

Founded: 2014

Nonprofit

Employees: 14

Director Andy Magel is offering woodworking, sewing, and other contract manufacturing services with a social mission at the heart of the operation.

"Most businesses work to keep turnover at a minimum," explains Magel. "We have turnover by design."

The Mile High WorkShop is a job-training program for those recovering and rebuilding from addiction, homelessness, or incarceration. Magel says it's all about giving people a fresh start with new skills. "Job creation is our primary metric right now," he explains. "We've been able to create some more jobs. There are nine people in the transitional job program at the moment. A year ago, I think we had about three."

The rate of success is high. "So far we've hired a total of 17 people and we've not had to let anyone go," Magel says with a touch of surprise. He'd previously worked in another job training program. "When we fired people from the program, it was how we helped them." At the WorkShop, "almost everyone has left well and moved into school or a job position."

In addition to the employees who are clients in the program, there are five other employees at the WorkShop, administrators Magel and Jeremy Katz, two shop supervisors and a social worker -- an intern from the University of Denver -- who works with the clients as they transition into the workforce.

The program was created last year by Mile High Ministries thanks to a donor who wanted to help create a social enterprise program. "They brought me on board, gave me an office, and said, 'Do what you can to get people back into the workforce,'" Magel explains.

They created a facility that provides a range of contract manufacturing services. Thus far it's partnered with 27 companies from across the country. "We've done woodworking, sewing, laser etching, and some assembly type-stuff in the past and now we're excited to take the jump into fulfillment," Magel says. That includes order fulfillment, distribution, and packaging. It's a natural fit for a nonprofit that's already producing orders for some of its customers.

It recently partnered with Cora to provide fulfillment for the subscription organic tampon service. Magel likens it to a Dollar Shave Club for women with a mission: For each of its sales in the U.S., the company donates tampons to girls and women in developing countries. While Cora moves from Philadelphia to San Francisco, it's still able to fulfill orders thanks to the WorkShop.

As a fledgling operation, Mile High WorkShop spent its first year "throwing stuff at the wall," Magel explains, looking for what worked best. He says a partnership with camera accessory maker Artisan Obscura was one of its best clients. "They were shipping all over the world. It got to a point where they were tired of making stuff in their garage . . . They needed a solution to grow their business."

"At a certain point, you can't make enough stuff and your time is not as valuable making your product as it is selling it, designing new stuff, marketing, and all of that," Magel explains. He contends that the WorkShop can provide services that allow businesses to focus on those more valuable aspects of growing their business.

Magel says the WorkShop can essentially manage all almost all aspects of a business. "They can run a business they don't have to touch," he says. However, many companies may have high demand for one or two products that aren't too expensive to produce. The WorkShop can produce those allowing the company to focus on making higher-value products.

Though a nonprofit, Mile High WorkShop aims to become profitable through its production, but Magel says it needs to improve efficiencies and land more accounts to build the business.

Now it's funded by grants, including a recent award from REDF's Social Innovation Fund, which includes money as well as consulting help with best practices. "It's a really incredible opportunity for us to plug in with other organizations doing similar work around the country," Magel says. "Their goal is, at end of five years, we don't need any outside funding and we're doing what we need to do well."

Challenges: "Getting the customer mix right," Magel says. "Doing the business well is a challenge all by itself."

The WorkShop's training-based model has an inherent challenge, he adds. "We have turnover by design. That presents a challenge to us on the training front."

Opportunities: "In manufacturing in general there's a movement and craftsmanship and trades and revitalization in the country," Magel says.

Needs: "We do have a financial need," Magel says. "We're not unlike many nonprofits right now. We need more accounts, more contracts, new things to make, package, or ship."

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