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Chippewa River Industries – Committed to Making a Difference
By Heather Rothbauer-Wanish
For over 45 years, Chippewa River Industries, Inc. (CRI) has made a significant impact in the community. Although the name of the organization has changed since its inception, the focus has always been on helping those that need individualized and meaningful employment and life skill development. And, today, the organization is reaching an ever-growing number of clients while assisting local and national businesses with their goals.
The mission of CRI, to empower and support individuals to achieve their highest level of independence in the community, has evolved with the changing times. Dave Lemanski, President and CEO since 2001, has over 20 years of experience in the community rehabilitation industry. And, when he came on board with CRI, he was excited to move the organization in a more progressive direction. “At the time, the facility was owned and operated by the County. This changed in 2009 and, since that time, CRI has been overseen by a seven-member governing board as an independent non-profit organization,” Dave explained.
Today, CRI offers employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities that may not be able to find work elsewhere. Jobs vary, but can include anything from food packaging to light industrial assembly, and printing of towels, shirts, and other sports gear. After strategic planning and a refined vision for CRI that occurred in 2009, the organization moved forward in a decidedly more modern and lean manner. “When I started here, the employees had 70%-80% downtime during their work shifts. Today, that has completely turned around and our employees have little, if any, downtime,” Dave said.
This laser-like and strategic focus has paid off for CRI, as the organization currently occupies two buildings in the Lake Wissota Business Park. And, by August 2014, CRI will occupy another 20,000 square foot building within the park. “The new building is designed to be a warehouse. Our main facility is HACCP approved and will ensure food safety regulations are met for any food packaging we complete,” Lemanski said. “The entire approval process, overseen by the world’s largest consumer food company, took nine months to complete and we couldn’t be more pleased that we can offer this to current and potential clients,” he continued.
Today, the company employs about 200 people, those with and without disabilities. There are currently 50 staff employees, including those at the Chippewa Falls-based business and other employees scattered throughout three satellite office in western Wisconsin. Not only does CRI employ people at its own facility, it works to employ people at businesses within the Chippewa Valley and Coulee communities. “We serve over 400 people per year through work experiences, job coaching, job development and placement, and the teaching of life skills,” Lemanski said.
Local businesses benefit from the employees and services offered by CRI. Curt Manufacturing, Great Northern Corporation, and several national businesses utilize the services offered by the company. “Sales staff go out into the communities to sell the services we offer. This, along with a strong referral base from local organizations, has led to increased business at CRI,” Lemanski said.
One of the organizations that consistently provides referrals to prospective businesses is Chippewa County Economic Development Corporation. “We are always happy when a business contacts us, mentioning that Charlie Walker or CCEDC has recommended our services,” Lemanski said. In addition, CCEDC was instrumental in CRI obtaining a community block development grant in 2005.. “The City of Chippewa Falls has been wonderful to work with, too. The city plans to add a crosswalk and a speed limit sign between our two existing buildings. This ensures the safety of all of our employees,” Lemanski continued.
As the healthcare industry and the economy continue to evolve, Lemanski knows that changes are always ahead for CRI. “I see CRI serving even more people with disabilities, but I envision us serving them in their communities rather than directly at our facility,” he said. “And, I’m excited that we can continue to blend industry and human services to make an impact in the communities we serve,” Lemanski said. Even with the changing health care landscape, Lemanski feels positive about the future, the location of its facility, and helping even more people. “We feel fortunate to be in Chippewa County because of the hard-working and diligent workforce—out staff at CRI is outstanding. We look forward to assisting as many individuals as we possibly can well into the future,” Lemanski concluded.