The commercial laundry room at Goodwill Industries in Colorado Springs is humming with the swishing sound of washing machines and dryers as the crew handles 2,200 pounds of laundry an hour.
It’s the sound of employment, and it’s growing.
In the past year, the Goodwill Industries of Colorado Springs hired 35 employees in its contracts division — janitorial, laundry and document imaging — bringing its employee roster to more than 200.
Goodwill, known for its donation and retail operations, is aggressively going after large commercial laundry and janitorial contracts. In the past two years, the company has landed 12 large contracts with military installations, hospitals and universities. For example, the Goodwill Fresh Start Commercial Laundry division recently won a contract with the U.S. Air Force Academy to launder all freshman cadet uniforms — all 1,077 of them.
“We are serving companies along the entire Front Range from Wyoming to Pueblo,” said Joe Cunningham, Goodwill director of business development.
This year, Goodwill will expand its table linen rentals and will market its laundry services to companies that want to offer laundry or dry cleaning to employees as a company perk. Goodwill will pick up and deliver the clothes.
“An employer contacted me and asked if it was something we could do,” Cunningham said. “We’ll be starting that mid-fall.”
Goodwill’s contracts division expects revenue to be $9 million this year. Goodwill Industries is a non-profit agency and all profit revenue generated from the contracts division supports its rehabilitation services.
All the new contracts mean more employees, Cunningham said. For him, it’s about putting more people to work in the community.
Goodwill hires employees with developmental disabilities — a population that typically has an 80 percent unemployment rate. This year, with the expansion of its document imaging contract on Fort Carson Army Installation, Goodwill also has hired nine wounded warriors, “which is a population our company is dedicated to serving,” Cunningham said.
“Most of these folks have significant barriers to employment,” he said. “Goodwill is focused on what jobs can we go into that will serve our client base.”
Goodwill’s contracting sector is an AbilityOne site, which means more than 75 percent of its employees have documented disabilities. AbilityOne is a federal initiative to help people who are blind or have other significant disabilities find employment by working for nonprofit agencies that sell products or services to the U.S. government. In 1994, Goodwill in Colorado Springs won its first government contract for janitorial service at the academy.
Goodwill is competitive on price and service, said Paul Brown, Colorado Springs Utilities maintenance supervisor and contracts coordinator. Eleven companies bid on a janitorial contract this year at CSU’s service center downtown. Goodwill won.
“We don’t necessarily just look at lowest bid,” Brown said. “We are looking for the best value.”
Goodwill already had a janitorial contract with Colorado Springs Utilities at its Leon Young Service Center.
“The competition is out there,” Brown said. “(Goodwill) has a track record. That helps . . . because of the value of what they bring to the table, their bids are dead on in what we ask for.”
The success of these partnerships is two-fold, said Melissa Lyby, Goodwill Industries of Colorado Springs director of communications. While customers receive quality service, they provide people with limited employment opportunities good jobs and a means to self-sufficiency. The average hourly wage of employees in our contracts division is $9.37.
“They are no longer relying on tax-funding services, and that benefits the community,” she said. “It has a far reach.”
Josue Nieves-Barreto moved from being a client of Goodwill to being a full-time employee. He was enrolled in Goodwill’s high school transition program. He started working in the Fresh Start Commercial Laundry facility last year.
“I was in transition,” said. “In 2009 I graduated from high school. I was really impressed about this job.”
The laundry facility specializes in medical linens, which represents 85 percent of their linen contracts. The laundry facility was recently expanded from 18,000 square feet to 24,000-square feet to accommodate the increase in business.
“We are looking at buying a new washing machine — it would double our capacity and could wash 150 pounds every 90 seconds,” Cunningham said. “We would be able to hire even more people in our folding area — it would be a great thing.”