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Bainbridge GIB celebrates its 60th year

During a recent tour of the Georgia Industries for the Blind factory in Bainbridge, a fuse blew and the lights went out in the main warehouse.

“It’s a funny thing,” said Mike Jackson, the plant manager. “The lights can go out, but employees keep on working.”

This may have to do with the fact that 75 percent of the employees are visually impaired.

The local factory, and first plant, went into business in 1949 in a warehouse close to the old air base. In 1952, they relocated to the Faceville Highway, where they are now celebrating their 60th year of successful business.

According to Jackson, some of the products they manufacture for the government are safety vests, culinary kits such as the j-spoon, and one-time-use pillows for hospitals. They also manufacture and, sometimes, directly ship pillows to soldiers in the military.

“Last year, we shipped several thousand pillows to Iraq,” Jackson said.

They also produce items such as folders for distribution to Office Max, Office Depot and Staples. For local events or family reunions, they manufacture personalized T-shirts, tote bags and hats.

“We use actual paint,” said Jackson. “Not the iron-on stuff that peels off. Ours doesn’t peel.”

According to Jackson, GIB produces around 35,000 folder leaves, 18,000 standard pillows and 12,000 folders a day. GIB recognizes that most of their employees have a specific need. One way they honor that need is by assigning a standard amount of folders to produce.

“Nobody gets paid under minimum wage,” said Jackson. “They are paid for each folder they produce. If they go over their standard amount, they get paid overtime.”

According to Kevin Kelley, Director of Manufacturing, people who work at GIB are state employees, which means they receive benefits such as 12 paid holidays annually, annual leave and sick leave, retirement plan, health and life insurance, vision and dental insurance, short- and long-term disability insurance, deferred compensation and spending accounts.

Most of their business is provided by the Javits-Wagner-O’Day Act, which, according to Kelley, orchestrates that the government must purchase products and services provided by nonprofit agencies that employ people with disabilities throughout the country.

“But, we have to stay competitive,” said Kelley. “Also, we must maintain a 75 percent blind-to-sighted ratio.”

In order to stay competitive, they must bid.

“When the Federal Government want’s something made, they are required to put it up for bid,” said Kelley. “We have to watch for this and bid.”

When the state wants something produced, they must also put it up for bid but, according to Kelley, this process is a little different than the Federal Government.

According to Jackson’s 2008 total sales estimate of $8.2 million, they are having no problem staying aggressive. Jackson also said they are expecting about the same for their 2009 fiscal year.

Bainbridge GIB also has a learning center for its employees. According to Jackson, there are tools such as zoom-tech and jaws screen reader. An instructor, who happens to be legally blind, conducts a class in order to educate other visually impaired employees on the use of spreadsheets and the Internet.

Over the past 60 years, the Bainbridge GIB has won and been nominated for several awards. A few of these include the Government Safety Award, Georgia Manufacturer of the Year (since 2004), and, recently, the 2008 Collaborative Partner Award. From 2005-08, GIB actively participated in the Bainbridge Relay for Life.

They also recognize employees hard work through employee of the month and employee of the year. For an employee to win an award, several things are taken into consideration, such as attendance, volunteer work and outside activities. At the end of the year, they choose two employees, one blind and one not, from employee of the month for the employee of the year.

The Bainbridge Plant has been around for 60 years, but there are two factories that are celebrating something new. Just last year, a ribbon-cutting ceremony was held celebrating the opening of a new plant in Albany. On Tuesday, senators and U.S. representatives, along with several representatives of the GIB, gathered in Griffin to recognize the completion of a multimillion-dollar project that added 10,500 square feet of warehouse space.

“We thank our employees and customers for 60 years of service, and hope for many more,” Kelley said.

To celebrate their 60 years of successful business, along with recognition of July 4, employees and managers held a fish fry on Monday.