Artisans moves office, looks to increase employees
Labor demand leads to referral increases
Natasha NellisMay 20th, 2021
A spike in demand for employment services has led Spokane-based nonprofit Artisans to increase its North Side office space and bring on more staff.
Work is underway on the organization’s new 3,000-square-foot location, at 220 W. Francis, where the nonprofit plans to move from its current office at 4019 E. Central. The Central Avenue office has been shut down during the pandemic, but the organization’s main office, at 200 E. Second, on downtown’s periphery, has been operating.
Polly Maxwell, executive director of Artisans, says the organization plans to move its administrative offices to the North Side location once a remodel there is completed. Artisans had planned to move into the new location in February, but the pandemic and related construction industry delays slowed the project. Maxwell says she anticipates moving into the new location soon.
Artisans offers employment services for people with disabilities, including support and training for clients hired by local companies, group supported employment, and job placement services.
The organization also provides job retention services and training through the state Department of Social and Health Services Division of Vocational Rehabilitation. Artisans’ community inclusion program provides volunteer and skill-building opportunities for clients looking to transition into or out of the workforce.
The Francis Avenue site remodel involves installation of new glass walls to create meeting spaces and training rooms, Maxwell says.
“It’s really a state-of-the-art space,” she contends. The new location also is being formatted to allow employees to plug in devices at any workspace and to allow for mobility and flexibility, she adds.
“All of our staff has transitioned to mobile workspaces,” says Maxwell.
The renovations are valued at $345,000, according to a permit application on file with Spokane County. Colbert-based Maxwell Contracting LLC is the contractor on the project.
Most employees work in the community daily, with the offices serving as their work base. With the new location, employees will have the flexibility to work from either office with the new communal workspaces, says Maxwell.
Artisans currently has 15 employees and is in the process of hiring four more to fill two job-developer positions and two coach positions to keep up with the nonprofit’s growth, says Maxwell.
Last year, Artisans had an operating budget of $1.3 million, which was funded through county and state funds, along with fees for services. That operating budget has remained steady since 2019.
Maxwell estimates client referrals in 2020 increased 30% over 2019. In an average month, the nonprofit has 125 clients in its caseload, she adds.
“We’re forecasting that’ll increase in the next six months to 150 to 175,” Maxwell adds.
She attributes the growth to a confluence of factors, including increased labor demand brought on by the reopening from the pandemic and more businesses being open to creative job placements and interview processes, she says.
“There are just a lot more positions available, we’re seeing job placements within a few days now,” she adds.
With the increase in referrals and an increase in working hours for clients, the nonprofit needs to bring on more job coaches, Maxwell says.
“People are also taking a step back, taking time to hire the right individual, and that has been a win-win for us,” says Maxwell.
The nonprofit also is seeing an increase in referrals of people on the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation’s waiting list, she adds.
Those increases led Maxwell to pursue certification through Cornell University as a benefits planner, to help clients coming through the nonprofit navigate benefits and ensure that, with the increase in working hours, the individuals won’t lose access to services.
Eat Good Group, the parent company of Spokane restaurants Gilded Unicorn, Incrediburger & Eggs, and Yards Bruncheon; Spokane Produce; Prohibition Gastro Pub; Safeway; Walmart; Eastern Washington University; and Northern Quest Resort & Casino are just a few companies that have partnered with Artisans to provide employment opportunities.
The nonprofit was founded in 1987 as part of the L’Arche Spokane nonprofit, an international organization that provides residential assistance for people with disabilities. Artisans was the L’Arche community’s employment services program, and when it first began the members primarily carved wooden bird houses and gardened, and those products were sold on L’Arche’s former farm to the community, she explains.
It broke away from L’Arche in 1994 and became Artisan Ark.
Woodworking continued to be the primary employment service until 2004, when the nonprofit was faced with either closing its doors or shaking up its services, says Maxwell. It was then that she came onboard as a volunteer to help shut down the business aspects of the organization, she says.
“We found of the 31 individuals that they served … over 50% would probably not be accepted,” by another job services agency that was being considered to take over Artisans’ operations at the time, says Maxwell.
Upon that discovery, she says the nonprofit opted to remain open and to rework its services.
“We have always felt that the best thing to do was to continue the mission that we had and adjust that as we needed too,” she says, adding that the organization is still growing and adapting to best fit the needs of those they serve.