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Manufacturers Doing Remarkable Things

Let’s face it—the world has no shortage of problems in need of solving, but there is also no shortage of the human ingenuity and creativity necessary to address those problems. The world sometimes evolves in unpredictable ways, however, and today's manufacturers face changing new economic and global pressures. Manufacturers continue responding to these challenges by creating new technologies, making products that are lighter, tougher, more environmentally friendly, better-tasting, longer–lasting (sometimes all at once). Manufacturers, and the people who work with them, make the world we live in better.

Sometimes, if all those fantastic efforts are not enough, manufacturers do other truly remarkable things.

Take for example, Stride Inc. Stride’s Reno, Nevada facility does custom manufacturing of everyday office stuff like ringed binders and pens. Whether you know it or not, you’ve probably seen Stride’s work at places like OfficeMax, Office Depot and W.B. Mason. Stride even manufacturers a pen featuring waterproof ink. This might come in handy for writing notes during say, a soupy, swampy Washington, D.C. summer, working in a misted greenhouse or documenting shrinking ice while witnessing the deteriorating condition of a polar glacier. Waterproof ink solves some problems (although it doesn’t wash out of shirt pockets so easily, I suppose).

Stride may be the first woman-owned writing instrument manufacturing company in the United States, which is, in itself, a pretty neat feat, and possibly a fact worthy of a blog in its own right. Most remarkable to me, however, is Stride’s philosophy as an “integrated diversity enterprise.” Stride’s mission statement expresses that it is a priority for their company to "employ adults with developmental and intellectual delays." Delays, though, are a matter of perspective, aren’t they? “Intellectual and developmental delays” is a label given to persons who do not reach certain milestones (gross or fine motor, language, social, or thinking skills) at expected times. Stride assesses people in a different way. Stride sees skills and abilities required for the manufacturing process. They employ people based on their ability and do so in a way not limited by labels. As the father of such a delay-labeled person, I find the Stride story to be one of the remarkable things that manufacturers do.

Stride, Inc.'s unique production model was conceived from tragedy. The company's founder, Barbara Brennen, created Stride after her son, Joe, died as a result of severe hydrocephalus. Hydrocephalus is the medical term for excessive cerebrospinal fluid in the brain. Hydrocephalus has a way of bloating a person’s head and severe hydrocephalus has a way of bloating the head severely. It’s not a good thing.

Medical device manufacturing has evolved since 1988. Advanced shunt technology, another example of manufacturing’s ability to help solve problems, has created the ability to alleviate the literal and figurative pressures that hydrocephalus manifests. I happen to know medical device company Medtronic’s shunts do a pretty amazing job of plumbing cerebral spinal fluid these days, but it was Joe and Joe's passing that launched Stride on a path of "working for, and with, people who have handicaps."

Last year it was my pleasure to meet and talk to Brian Brennan, one of the owners of Stride, Inc., and Kerry Bertram, the company’s CEO, at a trade show discussing developing domestic business opportunities for American manufacturers. After we discussed the “business of the day” topics, I learned the Stride story. Really…how many times at a trade show does a conversation pivot to hydrocephalus as the foundation of a business idea? It was a first for me, I can tell you that.

Stride's ethos is rooted in the fundamental knowledge that developing skills and mastering tasks are building blocks for self-esteem. Since its inception, Stride has conducted over 200 exit interviews as their employees were recruited away or as people chose to ply their newfound skills in other factories and businesses. It's a neat testament to the talent-rich, high-quality workforce Stride develops.

Stride, Inc. is not a sheltered workshop (an organization that employs people with disabilities separately from others). It used to be one, but Barbara Brennan knocked down those walls. Stride instead developed its business model around a workforce that combines able-bodied and differently-able-bodied individuals on the same line; people working side-by-side in complementary fashion. Stride hires people, not their labels. Stride sees the value in diversity and people. They view every person within their organization as a unique and positive contributor to the company’s goals. Stride finds that when they make a place for a person in their organization they add value to the company as well as everyone’s life experiences-– they harness the power and potential of the human condition in the workplace. That’s mighty.

Manufacturing solves problems. Manufacturers do great things, and sometimes truly remarkable things. Stride, Inc. embodies this.

About the author

Mark Schmit

Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology's Manufacturing Extension Partnership (NIST MEP), since 1988, has been committed to strengthening U.S. manufacturing, continually evolving to meet the changing needs of manufacturers. As division chief for regional and state partnerships, Mark is the lead for division policy and has assisted in the development of programs supporting manufacturing and industrial extension technology-based economic development, and entrepreneurship practices with state elected officials and policy makers, including the MEP policy academies, which were designed by MEP and partners to help states build upon existing strategies, leverage available resources, and spur creative new ideas about how to address major challenges or leverage opportunities around the manufacturing sector.  Mark is responsible for developing partnerships with both the public and private sector entities. He was an MEP co-lead for the creation of MFG Day, an outreach program held on the first Friday in October to show students, parents, and the public what modern manufacturing is all about, with growing annual participation across the United States. Mark was a 2001, 2005, 2014, and 2020 recipient of NIST’s George Uriano Award.  The George Uriano Award recognizes outstanding achievements by NIST staff in building and strengthening NIST extramural programs and partnerships.

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Thank you for the excellent write-up on Stride Inc. We appreciate the exposure and encourage other businesses to tap into the wonderful world of integrated employment. People with intellectual and developmental delays want to work, they love their jobs and are dedicated and dependable. An employer could not ask for a better workforce. I invite other business owners, who are interested learning more about special needs employment, to contact me!
This is a very inspiring post, indeed. I want to introduce Stride to another woman-owned manufacturer doing great things: Amodex ( Their excellent stain removal product is perhaps the perfect complement to Stride's waterproof ink. They are a third generation, family-owned business dedicated to safe, effective stain solutions and they pride themselves on friendly, helpful service. They would love to see this post and I will forward it to them. Thank you for posting!
Thanks for the suggestion Leslie, I will communicate with!
So cool to read about a fellow woman-owned manufacturer. Would love to hear more about your writing instruments and waterproof inks. Please get in touch with me. We know how to get that ink out of those shirt pockets - our Amodex Ink & Stain Remover!
Thank you for sharing an inspiring story both of manufacturing and diversity. The manufacturing industry needs to find ways to bring new employees of all kinds into a manufacturing career as they all face a huge retirement dilemma in the coming years. Stories like this show that we can address the human side of the workforce, we can work together to solve the challenges facing mankind, and we can be inclusive while we do that. You make me feel good about manufacturing all over again. Stride should reach out to Edge Factor ( a video production company creating outstanding stories about manufacturing careers and the industry) for a followup story. I plan to send a message directly to them as well. ~ Wendy
Thanks for the lead regarding Edge Factor Wendy. I will communicate with them!
It is truly a great and useful piece of information. I'm satisfied that you shared this helpful information with us. Please stay us up to date like this. Thanks for sharing.

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