Helping Hands

You remember your last big conference, right? You arrived and grabbed a coffee and a tote bag containing the materials you’d refer to throughout the event. As the keynote speaker was being introduced, you dipped into the bag and retrieved the day’s agenda, a pen, and a pad of paper, all imprinted with conference branding. A few hundred of your fellow conference participants got identical bags stuffed with the same stack of materials.

How did those hundreds—maybe thousands—of items come together so neatly? The College of Continuing and Professional Studies (CCAPS) wondered the same thing about a year ago when it found itself short-handed and needing to prepare for a big conference. They turned to a Twin Cites-based company called MDI that offers professional packaging services to fill in the staffing gap. MDI’s competent staff collated and packaged the conference materials and saved the day!

MDI—short for Minnesota Diversified Industries—has been a CCAPS partner ever since. “They do an outstanding job for us,” said Sue Borowick, CCAPS executive director. “Their customer service is impeccable, and their work is absolutely top-notch.  We have complete faith in their ability to deliver on their promises, and their values and ours are well aligned. They’re an ideal partner!”

What makes this company stand out, on top of their great service? Their social enterprise model. The company’s mission is to “serve people with disabilities by offering inclusive employment opportunities and services.” What began as Christ Child School for Exceptional Children in 1964 now provides meaningful employment to 160 Minnesotans with emotional, physical, or functional disabilities in Minneapolis, Hibbing, Cohaset, and Grand Rapids. 

“It’s as close to community employment as you can get,” said MDI CEO Peter McDermott. “We create value for Minnesota and for our employees.

“It’s as close to community employment as you can get,” said MDI CEO Peter McDermott. “We create value for Minnesota and for our employees.”

Value for Minnesota

In addition to delivering packaging and collating services, MDI helps deliver the mail: the company is a leading manufacturer of corrugated plastic tubs, 90 million of which have been provided to the US Postal Service over the last three decades. MDI’s workforce has a dozen different projects on the line at any given time. During a recent visit, staff were putting together variety packs of juice boxes for supermarket giant Aldi, room freshener and fragrance baskets to be distributed in Lino Lakes, and tool boxes for Huot Manufacturing, a St. Peter-based company. One team was testing roofing shingles for chemical content for 3M, while another was fusing corrugated postal tubs with a big welder, a favorite job of Kristie Armbruster, who has been working at MDI for 28 years.

“It’s good exercise,” said Armbruster, who also does end-of-line inspection for the tubs, ensuring post-office standards and the correct number of trays per pallet (96). Armbruster, who self-identified as having learning disabilities and a stutter, said she also appreciates more mentally challenging work. “If there’s any time-keeping to be done, I help put in the job codes and connect the codes to hours worked,” she said. 

Ron Cook has been working at MDI since 2002. He said he likes the fast pace and the opportunity to “make a difference . . . Some of the work is challenging, and I get to learn something,” said Cook, who described himself as having ADHD and an organic brain disorder. “If I ever have to leave here I’ll know how to work a lot of machines.”

“People with disabilities don’t want to be treated differently, they just need a little accommodation,” said McDermott. “We aim to employ at least 50 percent people with disabilities in our facilities across Minnesota. Our partnership with the U of M is critical to growing those jobs.”