President and CEO Jeff Dern spoke to Brandon Darnell of the Visit Sacramento Podcast about PRIDE Industries’ history and our goals for the future.
(This interview has been edited and condensed)
Brandon Darnell (BD): Hello, and welcome to this week’s episode of the Visit Sacramento Podcast. I’m your host, Brandon Darnell. Joining us this week is Jeff Dern, President and CEO of PRIDE Industries. Jeff, thanks for being here.
Jeff Dern (JD): Thanks, Brandon, great to be with you.
BD: PRIDE Industries has been around for quite a while. Can you give us some background on when you got started and what you do?
JD: PRIDE Industries is an amazing social enterprise founded in 1966 in Auburn, California. We were started as a nonprofit organization by parents from a church that had adult children with developmental disabilities. They wanted them to have opportunities to contribute to their community and gain independence—and you do that through employment. It was a grassroots nonprofit to start, and over the years, we’ve grown.
Michael Ziegler, our prior CEO who passed away in 2020, started with PRIDE Industries in 1983. He brought his entrepreneurial spirit and talent for building relationships with the community to create a self-sustaining organization.
What sets us apart is that we run a business based on contractual revenues with customers in multiple industries. At the same time, we’re also creating a social impact—we are a social enterprise. PRIDE Industries is now the leading employer of people disabilities across the country. We operate in over 16 states and have over 5,000 employees; over 50% are individuals with disabilities.
BD: That’s amazing. And you started in Auburn, about 30-40 minutes east of Sacramento. You’re now in 16 states and employ 5,000 people. What is a typical job position that you have?
JD: There’s nothing typical at PRIDE Industries, as we are a fairly complex organization. We operate in some core lines of business, and our largest one is facilities maintenance. We maintain facilities for the United States government, states, counties, cities, and private enterprises.
Locally in Sacramento, we have this amazing company called VSP Global. You know them if you have eye care insurance or probably have their coverage. They are one of our custodial services customers, and we clean their headquarters in Rancho Cordova. We also perform custodial services at Sacramento International Airport. For the individuals listening to this program—if you are traveling in or out of Sacramento, you’ll see employees in PRIDE Industries uniforms keeping the airport spotless in Terminal A and B.
We also do manufacturing and logistics services, and electronics is our specialty. We make medical devices right out of our Roseville headquarters for various customers and different industry segments.
We have several other customers in our lines of business, including medical, aerospace, and defense clients, a video systems company, and even a pet company. One of our new customers is a Sacramento-founded company called Reviver that makes electronic license plates—and we’re their logistics provider.
We do all these business capabilities successfully: from facilities to manufacturing to supply chain and logistics. Hewlett Packard is one of our long-time customers and a very successful account for PRIDE Industries. We do all of these projects while employing people with disabilities.
As mentioned, over 50% of our total workforce is people with disabilities. And that’s something that sets us apart, and we wanted to help other companies to replicate, at some level, what we do. So, we started a new line of business called Inclusive Talent Solutions—because we weren’t doing enough things already, Brad! Everything we do has a single purpose of creating employment for people with disabilities; our own successful business operations have proved this can be done at a high level.
We’re showing other companies in all sorts of industries that they could take the same approach and increase the number of people with disabilities that they hire. As a result, we’re going to impact their communities by offering more opportunities for employment.
Many people aren’t aware of how many people with disabilities are in our country. There are 30 million working-age people with disabilities, and more than 70 percent are unemployed. The big picture is that we need more inclusion in society and companies employing people with disabilities. So that we can create those opportunities to develop access, career paths, independence–just like anybody else.
BD: We’ve heard about computer component manufacturing and the chip shortage in the news for two years. Now, you mentioned the medical field, that’s obvious supply chain and now employment, career development, that sort of thing. And staffing placement, all of those have been real issues that we face in society. Is this a moment where you’re able to advance your goal? How have these things affected you?
JD: Certainly, there’s a labor shortage out there, and that we have all heard of. But you also have a segment of the population at 70 percent unemployed, not because they don’t want to work, but because they lack access to jobs.
Companies need to know that disability accommodations are most often not costly. They also need to know how to support people with disabilities so that they use their abilities to succeed. This population is hardworking and often has overcome adversity–they don’t take an opportunity for granted—they want the job, they show up to work and really contribute to the bottom line.
So, we find that right now, this unfilled gap in the labor market is an opportunity. Our Inclusive Talent Solutions focuses on larger companies with regional or national presences that need hundreds and hundreds of jobs filled regularly with people with disabilities to create more inclusion in their workforce. That benefits the companies’ productivity, generates better revenues, and creates a better bottom-line performance. So that’s just kind of what the labor market side is.
In terms of manufacturing, we’re seeing that companies are reshoring, they’re bringing manufacturing back–in medical devices, for example. There’s already a large medical device manufacturing industry inside the United States, but we witness that growing. And we want to catch that wave and continue to grow with it while we create more employment inside PRIDE Industries.
BD: You know, when you talk about talent solutions, are these businesses coming to you, are you going to them, or is it a combination? If I own a business and don’t know where to start, are you a resource for that? Or do you connect with people? How does that work?
JD: Yeah, it happens in all different ways. We have a business development team, and we acquired some large national accounts where, you know, we’re trying to get to 10 to 20 other markets. And start to make a difference in changing that unemployment rate I mentioned.
But we’ve also had companies through different relationships. Somebody who is the decision-maker comes to us and says, “I know you do a great job in this area in creating employment and being innovative. Can you help our company do that as well?” So, it happens in all different ways. We have a marketing team working hard to help our brand grow so that companies know what they will get in terms of quality and responsiveness, including the high level of customer service.
BD: And when you talk about disabilities, I imagine that spans quite a range, but is there a way you would classify that to someone who may be uneducated on the quality of work that can be provided. For instance, a company may balk at hiring someone because they have a mistaken notion that their productivity will not be as good? How do you approach that and educate around it?
JD: First of all, you’re absolutely right. There is a lot of bias in the world. We all know that. And it’s not always something that people are aware of. But how we tackle that is we’ve created a training program. So, an organization that we work with could use our training platform. And they could have their frontline teams, management, and even senior-level leaders, all engage in this multi-phase training platform. And it’ll help them to understand some of the barriers that people with disabilities face and how to be more inclusive. And it’s a shift in their normal business practices. But yes, we have to educate. That’s why we’re excited about the training that we can offer companies and that can certify that this person, or a company, understands about inclusion of people with disabilities in the workplace.
BD: And then speaking of inclusion, after the murder of George Floyd in 2020, many companies across the country created diversity, equity, and inclusion teams within their organizations. For many people, it’s intuitive; we need people from different backgrounds of ethnic, racial, gender, and sexual orientation. And yet disability isn’t seemingly as included, even though it’s a large part of it. How do you, how do you see that conversation progressing as we go forward?
JD: For disability to be part of the conversation going forward, there’s a lot of education that needs to be done. Part of what we do is advocate for individuals with disabilities to have the same employment opportunities as everyone else, not only through our own operations but also through Inclusive Talent Solutions. But we’re also involved in different groups at the national, state, and local levels to make sure that we’re advocating for more inclusion.
So yes, this is a challenge. But the most important thing is there are a lot of intersectionality. You look at the disability population, and it’s comprised of 30 million people of working age and one in five people in the country. People within the disability community come from all backgrounds; it does not discriminate against anyone. So, disability must be considered part of the inclusion movement.
BD: That makes a lot of sense. It is something that spans everyone. You also mentioned working with some of the governments, like at Sacramento International Airport, which, I mean, you guys are doing a fantastic job there because every time I’m there, it does look spotless.
JD: Thank you. Thank you.
BD: Are there some entities—government or private industry— where are you seeing your greatest successes?
JD: In our Inclusive Talent Solutions business line, we focus on larger fortune 1000 companies in multiple geographic locations and operations. We are essentially taking our employment model and sharing it with those other companies. PRIDE Industries is not like your traditional recruiting staffing agency; we support individuals after they are placed on the job directly through our PRIDE Industries’ team or a partnering agency. And we’re going to make sure that employees have the job support and accommodations to be successful. We want to create long-term careers, not just job opportunities.
BD: Yeah, that makes sense. This isn’t temporary; it’s a solution to long-term employment. What would you say has been the greatest achievement you’ve seen in your time at PRIDE Industries?
JD: We maintain the second-largest army base in the country: Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas. We have 400 team members in an area that spans almost 2,000 square miles of the U.S. Army base. So we’re maintaining roads, grounds, and buildings, and many army spaces like, you know, where they’re practicing exercises. There’s so much that goes into it. For example, we made and maintained a “tank wash.”
BD: It’s just like a carwash, but for tanks?
JD: Exactly! When I think about my career with PRIDE Industries, I think about large-scale projects where we have 70% of employees with significant disabilities. It’s such a privilege to be part of a company that can employ people with disabilities at such a high level. We have a large courthouse facilities maintenance project throughout the state of California (from Oregon to the Mexican border) and literally “keep the halls of justice open.” And then outside the government space, we have other projects, like with VSP or the Sacramento airport. So, some really exciting stuff that I’ve seen. We’re just really grateful for all of the opportunities and the amazing customers that we have.
True to our roots, we’re still 100% committed to operating large-scale vocational rehabilitation programs, which essentially are the job training and supports for individuals that need a pathway into employment. It is where we get deeply rooted in the community to help people start amazing jobs, whether it’s with PRIDE Industries or at another employer. We also have several hundred employers throughout California that we work with to place people in. Overall, if someone has a disability and wants to work, we can help them get the training and support they need to succeed.
BD: That’s amazing. I initially found out about PRIDE Industries after speaking to the owner of Ruhstaller Beer. He told me how he hired PRIDE Industries to put the unique burlap on their beer bottle. Once I looked deeper into what you do, I didn’t realize how impressive it could be.
Alright, Jeff. So, if someone wants to get involved with PRIDE industries, whether it’s a business or someone looking for employment or advice, what’s the best way?
JD: There’s a couple of ways you can get in touch with us, including visiting PRIDEIndustries.com. We have an employment helpline for training, placement, and job support at (844) 426-2253 or (844) I-AM-ABLE.
BD: Before we go, is there anything else people should know about PRIDE Industries?
JD: Well, I mentioned all of our different business lines, and I wanted to highlight our kitting and fulfillment services, which includes light assembly and logistics. So, if any listeners have a packaging need and want their product to be distributed anywhere in the world, we can assemble, package, and ship it.
BD: Yeah, that’s something that we’ve seen a lot of use for as more people are shopping online. Well, thanks for being on the show and for everything you’re doing. I think that’s cool; to be in businesses since 1966 and to work to make sure that workplaces can be inclusive. So glad to have you here in Sacramento and the 16 other states you’re working in. That’s pretty impressive.
JD: Well, thanks. Brad has been great sharing this time with you, and I appreciate it.
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PRIDE Industries is a social enterprise delivering business excellence to public and private organizations nationwide.