MDI, producer of standard and custom corrugated plastic packing containers, is adding 160 jobs across its four locations, with the majority to be filled at its new Hibbing facility.
One hundred jobs became available in the Northland this summer in the area of material handlers, maintenance and quality technicians, production workers and hand assemblers. Many positions are contract hires with potential to become full-time jobs.
Consistent with the mission of the organization, MDI has a particular interest in creating employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities.
The hiring spree is being driven by an order increase placed by the United States Postal Service (USPS). Since 1993, MDI has been the sole manufacturer of the U.S. postal totes, producing 93 million of them. This summer, USPS increased its order by 2 million tubs, which must be delivered by year end.
“At one point, (the Post Office) accounted for 95 percent of MDI’s revenue,” said Peter McDermott, MDI’s president and CEO.
According to MDI’s annual reports, sales to the USPS accounted for $9.8 million, or 47 percent of total revenue in 2017. That’s down from 2016, when sales to the USPS amounted to $28.3 million or 71 percent of total revenue.
This unpredictability is a problem with the model of having a single major account.
“We’ve had years where we delivered 9 million tubs and years where we only delivered 1 million. We can never predict how it’s going to be from one year to the next,” McDermott explained.
Growing more independent and creating a more diverse revenue stream has been a goal. In January, MDI added medical assembly to its Minneapolis services.
In its annual report, MDI explained that last year’s business highlights included the production of storage bins for a major online retailer and the manufacturing of reusable and collapsible boxes for a Fortune 500 retailer. MDI sells it totes, flats, boxes and trays via supply catalogues such as Uline or online retailers such as Amazon.
“Our highest volume export goes to Canada through a distributor. Our second largest export is to DHL in France. And our third exporter is to Muji in Singapore,” Katie Johnson, MDI’s marketing manager, explained about international sales. As a result, non-postal business has grown from about $2 million in 2008 to more than $10 million today, according to McDermott.
The diversification of its product and service lines goes hand in hand with MDI’s various facility expansions that took place over the last few years.
- In 2014, MDI moved into a new facility in Minneapolis.
- In 2016, it acquired an 110,000 sq.ft. building in Cohasset and relocated its Deer River Helping Hands (now MDI Helping Hands) operation into that facility.
- In 2018 MDI went from 20,000 sq.ft. production floor to 36,000 sq.ft. with the opening of a new facility in Hibbing.
The retired buildings in Hibbing and Deer River are currently for sale.
As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, MDI is a social enterprise helping people with disabilities by providing meaningful jobs that match their skills and interests.
With guidance from support specialists, employees can either be part of the “integrated workforce” team that manufactures a wide variety of totes, trays and boxes sold to businesses across the country or the highly capable and dedicated “production services” team that performs tasks such as kitting, packaging, palletizing and assembly, along with environmental services.
Rod Wood, chief operating officer at MDI, estimates that with the postal order surge, MDI’s employment will be about 500 by the end of this year. MDI’s goal is to increase that number to 1,000 by 2020.
“We are focusing on expanding our employee base with an inclusive working environment for folks with disabilities,” said Wood. “As we expand and grow our business, we’re looking for a 50-50 mix of people with or without disabilities.” Currently, the ratio lies at 40 percent with disabilities and 60 percent without.
MDI has employees as well as contracted employees. As of the end of July, the total headcount at each location was: Minneapolis-87, Hibbing-96, Grand Rapids-72 and Cohasset-171. About 50 positions at the Hibbing facility were filled at press time.
The company touts an impressive 96 percent employee satisfaction rating. All earn an above minimum wage. Employees with disabilities make on average $11 an hour and work 27 hours per week.
The non-profit’s financial reports reveal that sales were $19.4 million in 2017, down from $37.5 million, in 2016.
During its years of expansion MDI has received continued support from the IRRRB as well as the Blandin Foundation. Wade Fauth, vice president of the Blandin Foundation, said: "MDI offers a win-win-win scenario for the communities it serves. … It makes a very real and significant contribution to local economies by generating tens of millions of dollars in multiplier economic activity year after year. MDI is clearly one of the best charitable investments the Blandin Foundation has ever made."
As MDI continues to grow, it leaves open the possibility to extend into new communities.
“We are always looking at new opportunities. If there are communities that have low employment of people with disabilities and there’s a business that’s willing to outsource to MDI, we are always interested. We have room to bring in business in our current facilities or could move into new communities,” said McDermott.
To apply or learn more about MDI, visit www.mdi.org/Jobs, or contact Express Staffing at 218-326-9461 or Always There Staffing at 218-440-1022.