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Plant opens for blind workers

Photo by Laura Williams

Photo by Laura Williams

ALBANY -- Officials with the Georgia Department of Labor (GDOL) held a ribbon cutting ceremony for its new Georgia Industries for the Blind (GIB) manufacturing plant in Albany Thursday morning.

The GIB is a non-profit agency operated by the GDOL and is the largest employer of blind and visually impaired individuals in the state of Georgia, said Jim Hughes, executive director of GIB.

"Our mission (at GIB) is to employ the blind," he said during the ribbon cutting ceremony for the Albany plant.

The new Albany plant located at 1120 West Broad Ave. currently employs 26 individuals, including 23 of whom are blind or visually impaired.

Mike Jackson, the Albany GIB plant manager, said all the individuals employed at the plant are state employees and are eligible for state benefits. Employees perform duties such as general manufacturing and machine operations, contract packaging, specialized assembly and administrative and office procurement services.

"Through our contract manufacturing services, GIB produces a variety of products for customers nationwide," said Jackson.

Hughes said Albany is one of three manufacturing plants that GIB operates in the state. The other two GIB plants are located in Bainbridge and Griffin. He said it was initially Kevin Kelley, the director of manufacturing for GIB, that suggested the agency add another plant to provide more job opportunities to the blind in the area.

"Sometimes we know that it is not practical for the blind to move somewhere else for employment," said Hughes. "Kevin suggested we develop satellite operations to take the work to where the blind are."

Jackson said the Albany plant originally was housed on Pine Avenue with eight employees. He said when more and more workers were added to the small operation, Executive Director for the Albany Advocacy Resource Center Annette Bowling, made it her mission to find the GIB plant a permanent home.

Bowling said she has collaborated with GIB throughout the years and was excited to learn of their interest in a Albany plant.

"It has opened doors to people with disabilities," she said. "It is so exciting to watch what these individuals can do if given the opportunity."

Hughes said creating opportunities where they may have been very few before is what GIB strives to do for individuals who are blind.

"Many of them (blind employees) are drawing their very first paychecks in their life. It's about giving people with disabilities who are not seeking to take, but to give back, an opportunity to do so," he said.

Tim Evans, deputy commissioner for the Georgia Department of Labor, said GDOL is always appreciative when new jobs are created.

"The Department of Labor oversees the unemployment rates for the state and when the unemployment rate exceeds 10 percent, that is a large number of individuals who are out of work and will need unemployment benefits," he said. "GIB has created a grand opportunity here to create new jobs."

Derick Moses, 33, said he has worked at the GIB Albany plant for almost two years as an assembler and is pleased with the new location.

"It's comfortable," he said while assembling a large stack of file folders Thursday. "There's more room and I get along well with my co-workers."

Moses said the training he underwent to hand assemble the folders was not simple at first.

"Now it's like riding a bike," he said. "It just comes naturally to me."

Ward 3 City Commissioner and Mayor Pro Tem Christopher Pike said the GIB plant makes the fifth businesses to open in his ward in 2010.

"Albany is a wonderful place to do business," he said. "This (plant) is a great opportunity for Albany and while we do hear a lot of bad stuff going on in the city it is in the minority of all the good things that are happening."

Jackson said the plant has openings for anyone who would like to work. Five slots are currently available with one being for a sighted person and the rest open to those who are visually impaired or blind. He said he hopes to have more slots available soon.