The Union County organization pays higher wages and is the only workshop around to match deposits into ABLE accounts.

UCO Industries is a high-performing and award-winning warehousing and assembly organization in Marysville. Honda of North America, a client, has recognized it as a “tier one supplier” five times—signifying a year with no mistakes—and the Union County Chamber of Commerce recognized it as Business of the Year in 2018 and has awarded it seven of the last eight years for not having any time missed from work due to a workplace injury. 

Beyond these achievements, there is something else that stands out about UCO: It is a 501(c)3 nonprofit providing employment to people with developmental disabilities in Union County. Of its 130 employees, 80 have a disability, which represents 66 percent of Union County’s individuals with developmental disabilities.

In 1974, the organization began as a county-run sheltered workshop for people with developmental disabilities. Like many other such day programs, UCO privatized in 2013, relying primarily on earned revenue, and not Medicaid reimbursements, to function. It also offers employees benefits. UCO was the first organization to help workers with developmental disabilities save money through the STABLE program—Ohio’s name for the federal ABLE program, a savings vehicle that does not jeopardize recipients’ eligibility for Social Security or Medicaid. UCO contributes an additional 4 percent of an employee’s pay to their STABLE account. In order to provide some needed Medicaid services, such as job coaching and transportation, UCO partners with the Columbus Center for Human Services. 

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“It allows UCO to focus on the business. We are simply an employer now,” says CEO David Amerine. “Because our mission is a charitable purpose—it’s not giving funds out, but it’s providing an opportunity for folks that they might not have otherwise. Then [as a nonprofit] not having the added expense of the income tax helps us to be more competitively priced [for clients].”

Additionally, UCO offers a savings program to employees working 500 hours or more annually and matches 401(k) contributions at 100 percent. 

The organization has a sub-minimum wage certificate, meaning individual pay can be lower than the federal minimum wage and is determined by speed. Individuals with developmental disabilities can earn $14 an hour or more at UCO if they are efficient. Four of UCO’s employees with developmental disabilities have been promoted into 40-hour-per-week positions. Two of them are certified to operate forklifts, and one of them runs the production line.

Inside the 72,000-square-foot building, employees bag small pieces, slip instruction manuals into sleeves, shred documents and other such tasks. Honda is UCO’s largest client by far. Annually, UCO produces 1.5 vehicle owner manual kits and 400,000 front license plate kits for Honda. It also packages and assembles several Micro Center products and shreds all confidential Memorial Health and Scotts Miracle-Gro documents.

Micro Center is one of UCO’s newest clients. Matt Herman, director of visual merchandising, heard about UCO through his daughter, who works for the Union County Board of Developmental Disabilities. He kept it in the back of his head, remembering it as Micro Center was launching a new product that required lots of piece work, such as labeling and bagging small parts. UCO’s mission hits close to home for him, since his brother has Down syndrome. He says many times, Micro Center’s own distribution center doesn’t have enough labor for the job or the expense is greater, so UCO is filling a great business need for the company as much as it is gratifying to choose UCO. “Being able to [offer employment to those with developmental disabilities], I can understand what that means to the workers and it makes me feel good that we are able to provide that work for them,” he says. “We have a permanent resource now.”

Amerine says the response from clients and other businesses in the community is strong, especially as UCO’s mission is understood—to be an organization with a competitive business edge that is focused on excellence and also a nonprofit providing valuable employment for individuals with developmental disabilities. “We want to make sure they understand we’re focused on the quality and our products are priced at a competitive level,” he says. “We’re not asking companies to subsidize our business.”

This gig is also personal for Amerine, who has a family member with severe disabilities and has served on the boards of developmental disabilities organizations.

“When you think about changing somebody’s life and giving them that purpose—the check that they take home every payday really helps build their independence,” he says. “That’s extremely rewarding.”

Chloe Teasley is the staff writer for Columbus CEO.