Adults with developmental disabilities and special education students are among those helping to pick, pack and ship products at a 63,000-square-foot warehouse that has opened in Des Plaines.
Planet Access Co., a subsidiary of nonprofit Search Inc., moved its operations from Waukegan to a space that is 29,000 square feet larger at 1905 S. Mount Prospect Road.
The move not only expands the company's plant size, but officials say it gets the business geographically closer to the workforce they increasingly hope to employ: people with disabilities.
Last year, Search set a goal of having its Planet Access warehouse workforce comprising at least 20 percent of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Already this week, the company hired two new employees with disabilities, who process product returns.
One of the employees, Jacob, 30, says he works four hours a day, five days a week, inspecting clothing and other items when they come in, scanning them into an inventory management system, providing the consumer a credit for the return, and finding the location in the warehouse for restocking.
Most of all, Jacob says he'll enjoy getting a paycheck.
While the warehouse currently employs six plus seasonal workers, another 20 Search clients come in daily as part of a paid job training program. Roughly 10 students from two special educational cooperatives in the Northwest and North suburbs also receive hands-on job training.
Search runs 29 group homes throughout Chicago and the suburbs, including in Mount Prospect, provides career services, adult learning programs, and medical and behavioral services.
Search is also relocating its career services center to the warehouse and hiring additional career counselors, thanks to a grant from the Coleman Foundation.
The warehouse handles inventory for nine companies, including Toad & Co., a men's and women's outerwear brand. Planet Access, with sales of $1.9 million annually, started in 1997 in the offices of Toad, then known as Horny Toad Activewear.
"It's more than a business," said Gordon Seabury, CEO of Toad & Co. "At the end of the day, it's this type of partnership that makes getting up in the morning and facing the day that much more meaningful."