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.