Collaborations aim to benefit sheltered workshops, manufacturing workforce

Missouri Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe makes his opening statement in June 2018 during a news conference in the governor's office at the Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City.
Missouri Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe makes his opening statement in June 2018 during a news conference in the governor's office at the Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City.

Missouri leaders unveiled a new partnership Tuesday aimed at strengthening the state's manufacturing workforce and job opportunities for Missourians with developmental disabilities.

The state's Buy Missouri program, which promotes products manufactured in Missouri, will be collaborating with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), the Missouri Association of Manufacturers and the Missouri Association of Sheltered Workshop Managers.

The coalition, which was formalized Tuesday, will increase awareness of the capabilities of each organization, promoting Missouri-made products and services, and providing training and workforce opportunities for individuals with developmental disabilities and the broader community.

Partnership leaders, including Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe -- whose office administers the Buy Missouri program -- gathered to make the announcement Tuesday morning. The St. Louis venue was Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate Company, a Buy Missouri member that's already utilizing sheltered workshop services.

"Sheltered workshops offer incredible opportunities for Missourians with disabilities and their families, and many Buy Missouri member companies already utilize services from one of the 89 sheltered workshops across the state," Kehoe said in a statement. "This collaboration will benefit Missouri's workforce development efforts, while promoting Missouri manufacturing, products and services."

The new coalition will work together across various sectors to develop policies to promote industries and workforce opportunities within them, according to a news release. The collective will support a network that already employs around 5,000 Missourians with disabilities and around 900 staff at 89 sheltered workshops throughout the state. These environments provide those with disabilities a safe and supervised workplace, as well as community programs, according to the release.

"The Missouri Association of Sheltered Workshop Managers is proud to be part of this unique and unprecedented collaboration," MASWM President Rob Libera said. "Missouri is a leader in providing opportunity and employment choice for people with disabilities. These jobs provide stability, self-worth and dignity to thousands of Missourians. We applaud Lt. Gov. Kehoe for this initiative, and look forward to working alongside the Buy Missouri program, the Missouri Association of Manufacturers, and the Missouri Department of Education in continuing to promote the quality and reliability of Missouri products and services."

"The Missouri Association of Manufacturers knows that collaboration is the best way to accomplish any objective," said Michael Eaton, executive director of the Missouri Association of Manufacturers. "This partnership creates a formal opportunity for these organizations to work together in creating opportunities for individuals with developmental disabilities to work with even more Missouri manufacturers."

DESE Commissioner Margie Vandeven said collaborations between stakeholder groups were essential to the state's sheltered workshop network, which is administered by her department.

"Relationships like these are just one way to broaden our state's collective efforts to focus on workforce development and employment for all Missourians," she said.

Buy Missouri has more than 500 members and 40 retail partners so far, according to its website. Members employ more than 15,000 Missourians across 93 counties.