Spokane Journal of Business

Inland Northwest Lighthouse nearly set to expand

Work wrapping up on addition to nonprofit’s North Side plant

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-—Treva Lind
Inland Northwest Lighthouse’s Gene Daily cuts frames for wallboards at its North Side facility. The nonprofit employs people who are blind, deaf-blind, or blind with other disabilities.
-—Treva Lind
Tim Dotson, plant manager at Inland Northwest Lighthouse, and Shawn Dobbs, its development and public relations director, survey the 41,000-square-foot addition at the North Side facility.

Nonprofit Inland Northwest Lighthouse, which operates a manufacturing facility in North Spokane where it employs nearly 50 people, soon will start using a major expansion of its building there that it says will enable it to expand its workforce.

Baker Construction & Development Inc., of Spokane, is the contractor wrapping up the more than $3.5 million project, which has included building a 41,000-square-foot addition and remodeling parts of Inland Northwest Lighthouse’s 52,000-square-foot facility, located at 6405 N. Addison. Wolfe Architectural Group PS, of Spokane, is the architect on the project. The project provides added manufacturing space that the organization says will help enable it to increase its workforce to 100 people within five years.

Inland Northwest Lighthouse, a satellite hub of Seattle-based Lighthouse for the Blind Inc. that opened here in 2008, provides jobs for people who are blind, deaf-blind, or blind with other disabilities. The employees here mainly manufacture office supplies such as wallboards, hanging file folders, paper trimmers, and dry-erase easels that are bought by government agencies. 

The Spokane facility also makes component parts for a military-style shovel, and some airplane parts for Triumph Composite Systems Inc., which manufactures composite interior components for aircraft.

While Inland Northwest Lighthouse generates revenue by selling its products, the nonprofit and its parent organization rely on charitable giving to fund the training and support services they provide to employees, says Shawn Dobbs, Spokane-based development and public relations director.

“The money we make from the manufacturing really goes back into manufacturing and creating more jobs,” Dobbs says. “We rely on charitable gifts from the community to support our mission-related training programs and services for our employees.”

The organization’s mission calls for creating opportunities for its workers to gain independence and self-sufficiency, Dobbs says. 

To do so, it provides training that includes teaching braille and the use of computers, assistive-technology devices, mobility and transportation options, and other skills to work and live independently.

He says Inland Northwest Lighthouse’s fundraising goal for 2014 is to reach $50,000 to provide those services here. As part of that, it so far has raised $20,000 in 2014 toward the expansion, largely to support construction of a kennel for guide dogs and to attain Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) building certification for the addition. 

The new kennel can hold up to 14 dogs while the company’s employees work on the manufacturing floor space, says Tim Dotson, plant manager. 

“The dogs will have it much better,” Dotson says. “It’s important for our employees to know their dogs are well taken care of. What we’re using now for a kennel used to be a break room.” 

As part of the construction project, he says Baker also is finishing up a remodel of 1,600 square feet in the main building. That work includes creating five office spaces and a medical room for employees who need first-aid attention. It also involves creating a larger training room to provide more space for computer learning and other educational support for employees.

“The skills they learn here have applications not only on the job but also in their lives, like when they go to the grocery store or travel independently,” Dotson says. “Employees use braille to read job orders.”

He adds, “We allow our employees up to three hours a week of training here on-site and out in the community.”

To mark the expansion’s opening, Dobbs says, Inland Northwest Lighthouse will hold an open house on May 7 with free activities, tours, and fundraising. During the event, people will be able to buy bricks for a building campaign display in front of the addition that will show donors’ names. 

Individuals can donate $500 to buy a brick, and an organization can buy one for $1,000. Each option includes the donor’s name displayed in letter form and an embossed name in Braille on a legend. Dobbs says the nonprofit had sold more than 40 bricks as of early March.

Dotson says the addition is located mainly to the northwest of the main building in what formerly was a parking area. The facility’s parking shrunk from 250 parking spaces to about 58, but Dotson says a majority of its employees commute to work by bus.

The newly created manufacturing space will include areas for wallboard manufacturing and easel assembly. 

Its products include large whiteboards on which people in office meetings can write or draw using dry erase markers. The facility makes 40 different kinds of office wallboards, and that will expand by another 12 types, and the facility is adding three new easel products, Dobbs says. 

He says Lighthouse for the Blind had studied various locations, including Bellevue, before deciding to open its satellite manufacturing facility here, and it found that the Inland Northwest had a large population of blind people.

To encourage annual charitable giving, Inland Northwest Lighthouse has a mix of options that include holding fundraising events, seeking institutional giving from corporations or community groups, doing direct mail requests, and offering a program for estate gift planning, Dobbs says. 

Donors also can go onto Lighthouse’s website for giving options. People can request that gifts go specifically to Inland Northwest Lighthouse if they choose, he adds.

“We haven’t been raising money that long in Spokane, so it takes a little time,” he adds. “We do have some large institutional donors here. We invite people to tour our facility, and we want to develop those relationships with people here to grow our donor base.”

A few examples of the Spokane-area institutional donors recently supporting Inland Northwest Lighthouse include the Kalispel Tribe/ Northern Quest Resort & Casino, Community Building Foundation, and Hoyt, Lewis, & Associates LLC, a Spokane financial-planning services provider, he adds.

Dotson says that although manufacturing and jobs are expected to grow at the facility here, Inland Northwest Lighthouse’s primary motivation is to help the employees who arrive each week to work there.

 “We’re really a mission-driven organization,” Dotson says. “Manufacturing provides jobs and income, and once we get them in the building, we’re able to offer them the other training.”

Lighthouse for the Blind has a 150,000-square-foot facility in Seattle operating as Seattle Lighthouse that manufactures products for the U.S. Department of Defense and Boeing Co., among others. It has operated since 1918.

Treva Lind
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