The Supply Side: Wal-Mart provides contract work for Open Avenues clients

by The City Wire staff ( 31 views 

When Tom arrives at work, he enjoys spending time with co-workers and simply getting time out of the house. He says the paycheck “is just icing on the cake.” 

Tom is a client at Open Avenues, a non-profit organization in Rogers that offers people with physical and developmental disabilities programs that foster independent living and socialization. Open Avenues is an example that not all Wal-Mart suppliers are consumer goods companies, grocery vendors or other high-volume players.

One of those programs is through The Work Center, which contracts with local companies, including several departments of Wal-Mart Stores, to have Open Avenues clients perform a variety of tasks in the organization’s facility.

“We do much needed work for the vendors, and it is fulfilling work,” Tom said.

He was the Open Avenues Spirit Award recipient at Open Avenues’ 17th annual Spring Fling Luau in May.

“This award is presented each year to a program participant who best demonstrates the qualities and characteristics that make Open Avenues a great place,” said Allison McElroy, Open Avenues Foundation director.

McElroy shared a list of more than 15 area companies that contract with Open Avenues to have simple manufacturing, sorting, collating and many other functions performed by the clients at the facility. This in turn creates a workforce program for the Open Avenues clients where they learn job skills that can either be used to get a job outside of Open Avenues or provide a simple income and sense of accomplishment for work the clients do at the center. The companies pay Open Avenues and in turn the organization pays its clients for their work. An estimated 25% to 30% of the Open Avenues budget comes from The Work Center, McElroy said. 

According to information from McElroy, at least three of the contracts are with Wal-Mart entities including Wal-Mart, Walmart Print Solutions and Walmart Reverse Logistics. An ongoing project is to have the clients repack shipping boxes for Wal-Mart. 

Sam Dunn, senior vice president of Strategy & Business Planning Walmart Leverage, works at Wal-Mart but is also on the Open Avenues board. He said the box repacking program is a part of Wal-Mart’s sustainability initiative. The clients inspect each box as it comes through and decides if it can be reused or if it needs to be recycled. The boxes that can be reused are bundled and returned to Wal-Mart.

Open Avenues clients also disassemble scanners from old Walmart stores for possible recyclable materials.

By contracting with organizations such as Open Avenues, Wal-Mart is able to leverage a resource that doesn’t require the company to hire its own employees or find additional space to perform the projects. It also contributes to Wal-Mart’s initiative to “keep jobs local” and to help provide jobs for local residents who might not otherwise be able to find work. 

One residual benefit, Dunn said, is that some of the clients who are able to gain enough skills and independence to work outside of Open Avenues sometimes come work in the Walmart store locations. 

McElroy said each client has an individual plan and set of goals to achieve. Sometimes the goal Is full independence outside the center, other times it is simply to increase productivity and help the client achieve the greatest level of independence possible.