Traverse City Business News | Pride and Function: GTI manufacturers bags for state, packages products for local companies
Pride and Purpose: GTI manufacturers bags for state, packages products for local companies
Grand Traverse Industries (GTI), which was founded in 1974, offers job training and paid employment for disabled northern Michiganders. In a deeper sense, it offers the workers – called “clients” – a feeling of pride and connectedness to community.
Cindy Evans, now executive director of the nonprofit organization, said a college internship at GTI more than two decades ago helped her discover a deep passion.
“The second week I passed out paychecks, I saw how excited the clients were to be recognized for their work,” she said. “That was all it took. From that moment, I was hooked. I started at the lowest position and worked my way up.”
Evans became executive director of the organization a year ago. She said GTI currently has 58 staff members and 164 clients on its payroll. Most clients work in one of GTI’s sites in Traverse City or Mancelona. Some, though, work off-site for outside employers.
In terms of in-house manufacturing, GTI continues to rely heavily on producing various types of plastic bags. Large customers include the State of Michigan, Munson Healthcare and American Waste. Taken together, they use hundreds of thousands of GTI’s bags each year. In addition, GTI clients assemble and package products for numerous local companies such as Lear Corporation, American Proficiency Institute and Venturi.
GTI relies on two basic income streams – profit from its own manufacturing services and relationships with other businesses (roughly 55% of overall revenues) and Medicaid funding (45%), which is filtered through Northern Lake Community Mental Health Authority and North Country Community Health based on the services provided by GTI.
Like so many Up North manufacturers, GTI has faced challenges due to the pandemic.
“It’s been hard to fill staff positions,” Evans said, adding that pay levels are set by Medicaid reimbursement rates, but there is currently a push to raise wages to $18 an hour.
The pandemic also reduced GTI’s janitorial contracts, but there are signs of a recovery in other parts of the service sector. In particular, Evans sees group work in hotels and school settings as promising. One such group sets up and then cleans up during lunch periods at Interlochen Center for the Arts. Other GTI enclaves provide housekeeping services at Grand Beach and Sugar Beach hotels. Currently, four enclaves are employed and three new ones are being formed.
Evans sees other positive opportunities in the area of community outreach. Although GTI has been active in the Grand Traverse area for nearly 50 years, the strategic plan unveiled this January includes the goal of broadening awareness of the nonprofit and increasing fundraising revenues.
“We haven’t done much of either, but we’re thinking about it seriously,” she said. “We’re looking at fundraising and special events. And we need to integrate into the community even more.”
All the challenges, numbers and strategies aside, Evans remains clear why GTI is important.
“It’s all about the clients,” she said. “They’re the whole reason for everything we do.”
The Grand Traverse Area Manufacturing Council (GTAMC) sponsors this column. Its mission is to support a sustainable and globally competitive manufacturing sector for a stronger economy; makegreatthings.org.