Until the early 1950’s there were virtually no vocational opportunities for individuals with disabilities that could not maintain competitive employment in the state of Missouri. These individuals, who possessed a great number of skills and qualities, were often kept in state institutions or simply stayed at home. Men and women assisted with chores around the home and occasionally were employed, but for the most part, thousands of potential employees missed out on the opportunity to experience the feelings of self-worth, socialization and income related to competitive employment. In addition, area businesses missed out on the contribution of some very competent employees who could have been productive and contributing members of our community.
In 1965, important government legislation gave birth to vocational opportunities for people with disabilities. The 73rd, General Assembly enacted Senate Bill 52 which established the Extended Employment Sheltered Workshop Program. The law directed the State Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, Section of Sheltered Workshops to assist communities, which demonstrated interest in providing extended employment for their citizens with disabilities. Through this program, less productive workers who were generally kept out of the work force, because of what they couldn’t do are now paid for the amount of work they COULD do.
In 1974 a group of dedicated parents and citizens began what was to eventually become Laclede Industries, Inc. These determined individuals began in a rented building on North Highway 5 in August of 1975, as Lebanon Area Work Center with a small group of 15 employees with disabilities. By 1978, the workshop had outgrown the Highway 5 location and moved to a new location on North Jefferson Ave. in Lebanon.
In August of 1980 the voters of Laclede County approved a 1-million-dollar tax to support a Sheltered Workshop and that served as the springboard for the ground breaking for the new 10,000 square foot building at 941 Utah. This important event was held in August of 1982, on 2.5 acres of land donated by the Hillcrest Development and shortly thereafter, the name was changed from Lebanon Area Work Center to Laclede Industries.
Laclede Industries has experienced vast changes over the years. We have come from 15 employees and one project to assisting over 1,100 employees since inception.
In the 80’s and early 90’s we produced squeegees and were known to buyers as Gourley Manufacturing. This business unit was sold off and Laclede remodeled its operations to encompass manufacturing pallets and stuffing Easter eggs for NET. During this time, it was not unusual for Laclede Industries to stuff over a million eggs and produce and sell over 2000 pallets a week. We also garnered the maintenance contract for what is now known as the Conway Welcome Center.
By 2004 Laclede Industries had invested significant funds into the pallet project. However, the market prices of raw materials and increased competition from other suppliers hit our organization hard. Despite various attempts at bulk buying of raw materials and renegotiating pricing with buyers, Laclede Industries faced the realization that we were in a market with which we could no longer compete. This ushered in a period of restructuring which culminated in 2006 when we signed a contract with the City of Lebanon to begin recycling operations for our community.
Word of our recycling operations spread, we garnered grants and made great connections not only in Laclede County but in our surrounding counties. One connection was with a group called Waste Watchers. This group was an all-volunteer group of lake citizens that worked hard using nothing but volunteers to make recycling an option at Lake Ozark. In 2010 after the passing of their president, the board approached us about taking over lake operations and we did. Our lake recycling facility is located at 43 Valley Road in Lake Ozark.
Since inception of the recycling program, we have recycled over 26 million pounds of material to date, and we now have recycling contracts with many major manufacturing companies in Lebanon and the surrounding eight counties to provide recycling services.
Despite our success in recycling and in maintenance of the Welcome Center, we are constantly seeking new opportunities for our employees so that we can meet their desires for diverse work options. In 2018 we gained a contract to assemble Easter eggs once more in our small assembly area.
Our employees are capable of all types of work with the appropriate accommodation being supplied. Our duties include packaging and assembly, grinding and deburring of metal parts, providing janitorial, as well as yard-work and estate services. We are diverse and flexible, able to meet current demands and adapt to ever changing circumstances. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we entered into a new contract assembling N95 masks.
Laclede Industries is a source of great pride. It is a successful business, respected in the community and known for the fine work our employees do. This success can be attributed to the efforts of many parents, staff, board members, County Officials, volunteers and other concerned citizens in our community, but most of all, our success is directly attributed to the work of our employees.