Corrections ending outside dry cleaning program

Today is the last day state agency employees can take their dry cleaning to Missouri Vocational Enterprises.

Missouri’s Corrections department is ending the MVE operations of a laundry/dry cleaning service that, for years, has provided jobs for inmates as well as a lower-cost cleaning service for some people with state government ties.

“It is no longer financially feasible to continue the laundry/dry cleaning service,” Corrections spokesman David Owen said in an e-mail.

As the agency explains on its website, doc.mo.gov/mve/index.htm, state law created MVE within the Corrections department “to create meaningful job training for incarcerated offenders.”

The programs use “offender labor, along with supervisors and administrative staff, to provide quality products and services to state agencies and other not-for-profit entities.”

And, the website explains, “MVE is a unique business that operates on a working capital revolving fund and does not receive any tax dollars from the general revenue.”

It’s not just dry cleaning.

Missouri Vocational Enterprises offers a lot of different opportunities for inmates throughout the state’s prison system to learn skills they may be able to use after being released from prison, including furniture restoration, furniture making, graphic arts, metal-working, sign making and engraving.

The general public cannot use MVE’s services or buy its products.

MVE’s customers are limited to “tax-supported institutions and government subdivisions, including state, county and city agencies, and school districts in Missouri; non-profit groups, including churches, fraternal organizations and parochial schools in Missouri; and employees of eligible institutions, agencies and organizations in Missouri.”

The dry cleaning service is only one, small part of the larger operation.

But it’s been losing money regularly. Since July 1, 2008 — the start of the state’s 2009 business year — the dry cleaning operation has lost $356,724.20, an average of $71,344.84 each year. In the 2012-13 business year that ended June 30, the loss was almost $90,000.

“It went through its regular reviews and strategies were put in place (for improvement), and prices did increase,” Owen said, “but those strategies just didn’t pay off.”

So, the decision was made to close the dry cleaning service outside the prison.

MVE’s Jefferson City office, now at 1717 Industrial Drive, is the only place affected.

State employees would drop off their clothes at the MVE office, the work was done at the Algoa Correctional Center and the cleaned items returned to MVE for customer pick-up.

“The institution will still have its laundry service for the institution,” Owen said, “so the offenders working in that operation will still have their laundry/dry cleaning jobs for Algoa’s laundry.”

Some Mid-Missouri dry cleaning operators have objected to the program over the years as unfair competition. They argued for the program to be shut down.

Jefferson City businessman Steve Dinolfo owned Dix Road, Capital City and Quality Cleaners until last year. He regularly argued that the Corrections dry cleaning operation caused him to lose money, because potential customers went to the state-run program, instead.

“Dry cleaning has gotten more expensive over the last few years,” he said in a recent e-mail. “Supplies such as hangers and plastic have nearly doubled in cost.

“Dry cleaning solvent costs and waste disposal costs have doubled or tripled. Labor costs have increased $2 to $3 per hour.”

And utility services to produce steam and provide electricity also “have increased significantly,” he said.

Nick Schrimpf bought Dinolfo’s cleaners last year. He thinks the decision to close the MVE dry cleaning service will be good for him and his competitors.

“I’ve only been doing this for a year and three months, since I bought the business from Steve,” Schrimpf explained. “I’m still pretty green in the industry.”

Although Dinolfo kept detailed records trying to determine the state operation’s effects on his business, Schrimpf said he hasn’t been in it long enough to know the current effects.

With the plans to shut it down looming, he said, “We haven’t seen an increase, yet, in our business.”

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