Vocational training company builds lives and business

When Frank Davis, director of facilities at Phil Long Ford, went looking for bids on building maintenance, he interviewed local firms and chose Aspen Diversified Industries (ADI) to do the job. Pretty typical, right? But ADI is not a typical company.
In truth, ADI’s chief, Ken Barela, is actually an “executive director”, and the company’s 120 employees represent a cross-section of disabled, non-disabled and disadvantaged individuals who have experienced difficulty finding jobs in the commercial market. ADI is a vocational training and rehabilitation company within the Pikes Peak Mental Health system.
Thanks to Barela’s MBA background and entrepreneurial vision – and to Pikes Peak Mental Health’s and West Central Mental Health’s seed money and support – ADI has already won national recognition. Recently featured in the June 2002 issue of Behavioral Healthcare Tomorrow for its innovative programs and retraining successes, the organization was also just nominated for the prestigious national Eli Lilly Award for Excellence.
ADI generates more than $3.5 million annually (net profits average five percent) – up from $2 million in 2000. Profits are funneled back into employee salaries, benefits and community behavioral healthcare programs. “If we provide people with work, retraining and rehabilitation opportunity in the normal integrated market, we see lowered medical costs and increased self-esteem,” said Barela. “As a 501(c)3, ADI is not precluded from making a profit. It’s how we reinvest those profits that differentiates us.”
The secret to its success lies in employing modern business practices, says Barela, who espouses a “no money, no mission” philosophy. In addition, the non-profit company has purchased and customized state-of-the-art software technology for all of its service lines which include: environmental services for construction, maintenance and custodial; assembly services (bulk mail, computer assembly, light manufacturing); transportation; facility management; and food service, including catering and fixed contracts.
ADI has reached capacity in its current office/warehouse facility on Hancock Drive. In May, the organization submitted a purchase proposal on the vacant former K-Mart shopping center at Airport and South Circle Drive. The building contains more than 100,000 square feet, but Barela sees an opportunity to consolidate more Pikes Peak Mental Health services at the location and to allow ADI room to expand its growing book of business.

Manufacturing and Assembly
To date, a number of local companies have opted to support the mission by contracting with ADI. One case in point: AMI Industries, manufacturers of airline passenger seats, has hired ADI to do complete assembly on the precisely engineered components. “Our team has done such a good job for them,” said Barela, “that we now deliver a turn-key product – and work directly with AMI’s vendors to pick up components, to assemble parts, and to deliver completed units. They have been very pleased with our work – and appreciate the precise quality of what we do.”

Culinary and Catering Training: Café Moreno
One of the organization’s newest and fastest-growing employee training opportunities is ADI’s culinary program, started in February 2002. Café Moreno (named for its location in a PPMH facility on Moreno Street) Certified Executive Chef and program manager, Mike Longo, brings more than twenty-six years of experience to his position. His own career included an apprenticeship at The Broadmoor Hotel. He went on to serve as head chef at Glen Eyrie and at a local senior community prior to assuming his new role.
“I am happy to be able to provide our students with a valuable skillset,” he said, adding that his clients range in age from twenty-one to the mid-thirties. Within twelve to thirteen months, candidates can earn certification with the American Culinary Institute and go on to advanced careers,” Longo said. Café Moreno’s services include catering for wedding receptions, office parties or meetings, banquets, fundraisers, cocktail parties and more.
In addition to a broad range of commercial catering for companies such as Stresscon and the Phil Long Dealerships, the Café Moreno team has also won fixed contracts to provide meals for the Red Cross Shelter and for 100 meals a day for the Detox Center on Parkside Drive. Barela expects the culinary program to generate more than $300,000 this year — decreasing sole reliance on grants, subsidies and donations.

Transportation Services
Responsible for 45 vehicles, ADI provides vehicle maintenance and shuttle services directly from local hotels/motels, to and from Colorado Springs, Denver and Pueblo.

Environmental Services: Facility Management, Custodial, Maintenance and Light Construction
John Madrid, director of ADI’s Environmental Services division, hails from a twenty-year career in the corrections industry. He says that his work with clients dealing with mental illness or other disabilities pays greater rewards than just financial. “ADI provides normal work environments rather than isolation,” says Madrid, “and offers an integrated environment for disabled as well as non-disabled employees – all at market-competitive levels. Our commercial clients have the same expectations of us as they would any other vendor,” he says. “They want a good job done on time – and for a fair price.” Barela agrees. “We have to stay efficient and well-organized in spite of the fact that our behavioral health mission includes built-in inefficiencies.”
It is ADI’s Environmental Services program, generating more than $850,000 annually, that works closely with companies like the Phil Long Dealerships or AMI. Steve Pagel, director of engineering, holds a contractor’s license. Of a recent Phil Long building demolition and dismantling, Frank Davis said, “We originally hired ADI to help us with basic maintenance. Once we saw the quality of their work, we hired them for light construction contracts as well. I am a tremendous fan of the program.”

Business Accounting Practices
Business and accounting manager, Sandy Moore, sees ADI from another vantage point. Moore, who recently joined ADI’s staff after many years in corporate finance, uses her cost accounting and P & L background to help ADI with payables and receivables, job estimates, employee scheduling and contract tracking. “We track jobs by organization, division and actual job number – just as any for-profit company would do. ADI is compelled by its mission to help people get the job training and experience – but they still have to measure up in a competitive market.”

Voc-Tech Innovation
As one more building block in the ADI mission, Barela recently succeeded in bringing five separate vocation training programs offered by West Central Mental Health, San Luis Mental Health, Southeast Mental Health and Midwestern Colorado Mental Health under the ADI umbrella. “In addition to job training, we can assess an employee’s level of disability or progress,” says Barela, “and offer retraining and reorienting through placements like those offered by ADI.” Best of all, the arrangement will fund expanded educational and job opportunities. In ADI’s planning stages: computer training, certified custodial and culinary as well as shadowing/mentorship programs.

The Future: Unlimited
The future looks bright for Aspen Diversified Industries. As a result of increased self-esteem and income, nine of ADI’s employees have moved off of government assistance programs and onto private company benefits in the past two years. Barela sees an added bonus in reduced managed healthcare costs for lifelong medications and therapy (often paid by the taxpaye
r). “We see such wonderful results here,” said Barela. “ADI’s success proves that business is a science – and if you apply its principles properly, you’ll generate positive outcomes – whether in a for-profit or non-profit enterprise.”