PRIDE Industries: A Nonprofit EMS and Staffing Firm Moves Into Mil-aero


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PRIDE Industries is a contract manufacturing provider with a twist: The company provides training and coaching for job seekers with disabilities, including service-disabled veterans. If they don’t have openings in their Sacramento facility, they may have a job for you in one of 15 other states.

I recently spoke with Tony Lopez, PRIDE Industries’ vice president of manufacturing and logistics services, and Kat Maudru, public relations and social media manager. They discussed what it’s like operating a nonprofit EMS company, their recent move into the aerospace and defense segments, and how they’ve stuck to their founders’ original tenets since 1966.

Andy Shaughnessy: Tony, your company doesn't really fit into any of the typical buckets. Give us the backstory on PRIDE Industries.

Tony Lopez: We like to say that PRIDE Industries is a complex carbohydrate. That’s because we’ve been a social enterprise since before the term was coined. For a long time, we’ve been the nation's leading employer of people with disabilities.

We were started in 1966 in the basement of a church in Auburn, California, by a group of parents with children who had disabilities. They came together because they wanted gainful employment for their adult children. From our founding to the mid-‘80s, PRIDE Industries operated just like every other nonprofit: hand to mouth. The board recognized that this model wasn't sustainable, so they decided to change it, and adopt some of the tools of the business world to better fund our mission and grow our services. To do this, they brought on a stellar sales individual as president and CEO, Michael Ziegler. Zig passed away almost a year ago, but not before leaving a huge mark on our organization. He was an important catalyst for change and transformed PRIDE Industries into what we are today.

On my side of the house—manufacturing and logistics—it was the Hewlett-Packard relationship that put PRIDE Industries on the map. Then we partnered with McClellan Air Force Base, got a couple of federal contracts. From there, we just grew, and it's been a great ride ever since. We provide both product and service offerings to Fortune 100 companies and the federal government.

It's quite the unique social mission that we have here. Within the Manufacturing and Logistics Services Division, we provide electronics contract manufacturing services. We do supply chain and logistics services for large companies like Hewlett-Packard, and we also do contract packaging and fulfillment. That last line of business does a lot of general assembly, general kitting for food-related products or just standard products that have secondary packaged requirements going into the retail market.

The other side of the house, our federal side, is really what's taken us to the 15 other states outside of California and Washington, D.C. Our largest facility is in El Paso, where we provide services for Fort Bliss U.S. Army Base. For anything the military doesn't do themselves, PRIDE Industries is contracted to do.

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I’m proud to say that for several decades, we've done a great job of creating job opportunities for people with disabilities, while providing world-class support to our customers. We’ve shown that an inclusive workforce is highly productive. So, in keeping with our mission, we decided to share our workforce model with the rest of the world. A lot of companies today are looking at diversity and inclusion goals and trying to generate an alternative workforce strategy. We can help with that. We’re now providing training and assessment tools to companies across the United States. We also provide placement of individuals with disabilities to help these companies reach their diversity and inclusion goals faster.

So yes, we are diverse and complex company because of all these services that we provide.

Shaughnessy: We don't see that very often. You're a provider of electronics manufacturing services, and a leader in other lines of business as well. And now you're becoming a staffing company. Those are big company-wide goals. Let’s drill down a bit. What’s your latest endeavor in the EMS business line?

Lopez: The latest endeavor for us within the electronics manufacturing line of business is to pursue opportunities supporting customers that are in the aerospace and defense industry. I made reference earlier to providing services to the federal government within the facility space. We have so many connections already established within the federal facilities side that it made sense to leverage those long-established relationships. The EMS business has already proven itself in the commercial space, so it really made sense to offer that expertise to our existing federal customers. Of course, we had to modify some of our processes and bring in new subject matter experts, but the fundamental know-how was already in place.

We spent the greater part of last year preparing to become certified within the aerospace and defense industry. Our teams rallied together to upgrade our processes and procedures, and to make sure we were compliant. Now we're ready to go. We are in the process of courting two large aerospace and defense contractors—one of which is the sixth largest on the face of the earth—to provide kitting and cabling services. And that’s just a start.

Because our experience in the commercial space is so deep, it was relatively easy to get off the ground. And it’s a natural move for us; it fits well with our mission. PRIDE Industries serves quite a number of service-disabled veterans, most of whom feel quite at home working on a military base. So, along with highlighting that we've got the required skills to support products within aerospace and defense, we also tout the fact that we employ veterans. That combination has been a huge win for us, and I think that’s one reason we’re doing so well this early out of the gate.

Shaughnessy: Tell me more about this. You had to get all your certifications done to do defense work, right?

Lopez: Yes. We had to register with the federal government, and we'll be audited by those agencies as well as our customer base. The requirements are quite stringent. But again, this is a natural area of growth for us. A couple of years back, we did something similar when we decided to manufacture medical devices. Our standard electronics manufacturing factory adheres to what's called ISO9001. It's a basic requirement to play in the electronic space, and  documents what you do to ensure that your outcomes are consistent. But to manufacture medical devices, we needed even more stringent certification. Getting that took us a little over 12 months and required a high level of effort and sweat equity. But it was worth it: We got to play an important role in keeping people safe during the height of the pandemic. That was gratifying to the whole company, and of course now we can offer more manufacturing solutions in this industry than we could before. Now we’re going through a similar process, in expanding our EMS services to the federal sector.

Shaughnessy: How does this process work if you’re a job seeker? You mentioned earlier that PRIDE Industries hires veterans. Tell me more about that.

Lopez: We hire a broad range of people, including veterans, and we specialize our services to the individual. Early on, we found that the terminology, the language with the military, is not the same as in the business world. So, we brought in veteran liaisons; they’re responsible for partnering with individuals who are looking for employment outside the military. The liaisons work with veterans to translate their military experience into civilian terms on their resumes, and to make sure they understand the requirements of a business opportunity. Then these job candidates work with our recruiting teams to find job openings that match their job skills.

To reach more veterans, we actively work with the VA system. You’ll also find us at job fairs and other venues. It's both individuals reaching out directly to PRIDE Industries, and PRIDE Industries reaching out to the military population to talk about what we do, how we do it, and how we can provide services to them once they are retired from the military. And because of our mission, PRIDE Industries has decades of experience working with veterans who have some level of disability.

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