“Learn and earn” facility has more work than space.
Webster Enterprises, located in Jackson County, provides employment opportunities for individuals who have disabilities or financial disadvantages in Jackson, Macon, and Swain counties.
In the three counties Webster serves, the disabled population is estimated at 10,000 individuals. Through the work program at Webster Enterprises, those individuals are given a chance to gain real life work experience in hopes of seeking long-term employment in the work force.
As a manufacturing hub which opened in 1976, Webster Enterprises offers employment opportunities in the form of training and education courses through the manufacturing of medical devices. Individuals are paid to learn the ropes of the manufacturing businesses as a hands-on training center.
“We are first and foremost a community rehabilitation center," said Executive Director Gene Robinson. “Our mission is to teach people with disabilities and/or people that are financially disadvantaged to succeed and prosper in the working world.”
While Webster Enterprises is a manufacturing company serving countries all over the world through their sewing and medical device products, the business is run as a not-for-profit dedicated to offering the specialty training and attention needed for disabled individuals, veterans, the financially struggling, and others to become gainfully employed, whether it be with Webster or in other jobs in the community. "We are a manufacturing company, but we are not training people for manufacturing jobs, we are teaching the essential skills needed to become and retain employment," said Robinson.
Individuals who work with Webster Enterprises are employed based on referrals for the service aspects of the organization from a number of different sources, including, vocational rehabilitation, mental health, schools, doctors, ministries, insurance companies, and self referrals. According to Robinson, anywhere from 50 to 60 percent of the 80 people currently employed at Webster have a disability, whether physical, emotional or mental.
Webster Enterprises is involved in developing a product, purchasing material and marketing the final product. Each and every aspect of the business provides hands-on training for employees. From answering the phones, to each step of the manufacturing process, to sweeping the floors, to bundling the recycling, every aspect of Webster Enterprises is used as an opportunity to teach workers a different skill to best prepare them for the workforce.
The manufacturing floor of Webster Enterprises is complete with partially automated machines that cut pieces to dimension from roll stock to create the medical devices that get shipped to companies all over the world. The medical devices manufactured at Webster Enterprises include various sizes of drapes, tray covers and other disposable items used in operating rooms as parts of kits used by healthcare providers during surgical procedures.
In the last year, Webster Enterprises has expanded operations to include a sewing unit that provides additional job training and skill building to program participants. The sewing portion of the facility is also used by businesses nationwide for products ranging from weightlifting belts to crib sheets.
With the sewing expansion, Webster Enterprises currently receives more orders than they have space and for often have to turn away work orders. They are currently working to expand the building used for the sewing facility, and are hoping to begin servicing a greater population of Macon, Jackson and Swain counties. With the resources available, interested individuals need to contact Webster for more information.
Webster Enterprises follows employees all the way through the employment process. From teaching skills such as team work, understanding authority, being on time and even basic skills such as simply coming to work, all the way until the program participants are hired out by other employees, Webster Enterprises offers services to help with it all.
“The unique part of our business is that it locates, evaluates, trains and places people that have disabilities and that are disadvantaged, into the labor market,” said Robinson. "I believe that you can pretty much Employees at Webster Enterprises learn job skills through the organization’s medical device manufacturing business.
teach anyone anything if you have enough time.” Webster works with Southwestern Community College to provide basic education courses for program participants so they can learn to work with computers as well as learn basic reading, writing and math skills.
Participants must be at least 16 years old to be eligible for the program. Once approved for employment at Webster, the organization makes a commitment to work with each individual until they are ready to enter the workforce. Each person who completes the vocational program at Webster Enterprises are equipped with real work experience, competitive work skills, self awareness of vocational abilities and interests, increased employability maturity and job retention skills.
At the conclusion of this fiscal year (June 30), Webster Enterprises realized a record year in both production and revenues, according to Robinson.
“Our $384,000 increase in revenues placed our total income slightly under $1,615,000. We were fortunate to have increased orders from nearly all of our customers and our production staff met orders on time,” he said.
Webster Enterprises strives to be financially self-sufficient with more than 85 percent of all operational costs are earned by the business elements of the facility. The cost to run the operation yearly is approximately $2 million.
Robinson explained that as a 501-(c)3 (not for profit) status facility, Webster Enterprises is owned by the community at large. “We currently have eight members on our board of directors, who each serve a three-year term.”