Celebrating 50 Years – WE WORK – 1964 to 2014 Our history is employing persons with disabilities in commercial businesses. Throughout its 50 year history, Friendship Industries has upheld its mission to develop and maintain employment and training opportunities for persons with disabilities in integrated work environments. How? With a strong corporate philosophy of work. Friendship Industries realized long ago regardless of who you are, your work – paid or unpaid – defines you. Work offers community and belonging. At Friendship Friendship Industries, we have worked for 50 years as a manufacturing business providing definition and meaning to people’s lives.
The Past 50 Years
Friendship Industries’ start was in the 1960’s when a few special education instructors and citizens created the Linville-Edom Sheltered Workshop for male students who aged-out of the high school system. The workshop was a success and expanded. In 1971, the workshop was incorporated and named Friendship Industries. Friendship Industries moved into larger quarters on Waterman Drive in Harrisonburg in 1974, and remained there for 26 years. Dave Flick, Friendship Industries President, and George Homan, Vice President, worked during those years to develop Friendship Industries’ core strengths of contract packaging, a flexible workforce, and problem-solving emboldened by a pioneering spirit.
Examples of our core strengths and values abound over the span of 50 years. In the 1980’s, Friendship Industries pioneered the Supported Competitive Employment Program model. A Friendship Industries’ Job Coach was hired to assist persons with disabilities in finding and maintaining employment at another business. When transportation proved to be a barrier for people to come to work, Friendship Industries purchased vans and hired drivers. Friendship Industries was the first agency in the area to be awarded a three-year CARF certificate for its quality Rehabilitation programs in 2000. (Friendship Industries has been continuously accredited since then!)
A Management decision in the early 1990’s led Friendship Industries to focus on its core strength of contract packaging. This brought about the hiring of a sales person, Tom Hook. Annual earnings and benefits nearly tripled that decade. The decision to focus on sales brought about a shift in thinking. To create more jobs for persons with disabilities, Friendship Industries would focus on commercial abilities rather than employee disabilities.
With some success behind us and an updated mindset, Friendship Industries, in 2000, moved into a new 40,000 square foot manufacturing facility. The business design allowed Friendship Industries to attract more commercial customers from farther afield who saw Friendship Industries as a manufacturing company first and foremost. Next, Friendship Industries earned a Department of Defense contract for Air Force Escape and Evasion kits. And then, a partnership with a private company created a business repackaging food product in refrigerated warehouse space. This not-for-profit/profit business model thrived.
The Next 50 Years
Friendship Industries is and always has been a business with a social mission – a social enterprise. As we enter the next 50 years, we believe our growth will depend on combining our core strengths with key commercial partnerships to create social enterprises like our food repackaging partnership. While we face the same challenges and opportunities as every other business entity, Friendship Industries has an added strength knowing our success spills into our community through jobs for all people -employing people with disabilities alongside those without. “We Work” is a sentiment for our past and our future.