Goodwill cashes in as auto supplier in Detroit area
Goodwill Industries of Greater Detroit is doing more than spreading cheer, operating thrift stores and training those in need this holiday season. The nonprofit is producing millions of dollars through its growing automotive parts operations.
Goodwill Automotive, an auto supplier for the Detroit automakers and others, is expected to produce about $16 million in revenue this year — a record. That’s up from less than $6 million in 2010. Its roughly 80 automotive workers this year will have produced and shipped 15.6 million parts for roughly 30 companies.
“We have the same requirements as any other Tier 1 supplier; they don’t cut us any slack because we’re Goodwill Detroit and we help people,” said Kathleen Laird, vice president of automotive operations. “We did a lot of work to make our factory be fully certified and get all the metrics to where they needed to be.”
The operations have progressed from putting together kits for license plate holders to small assembly in recent years, including parts such as fuse blocks, turbo resonators and differential pressure sensors.
Goodwill Automotive is expected to account for about half of the entire Detroit-area nonprofit’s revenue this year, Laird said. The growth in business has helped it boost training operations in the automotive division, which has a mission to train individuals for careers in manufacturing.
“Our goal is to help people, but also make our customers extremely happy,” Laird said. “We have capacity. We’re looking for more business, definitely. Then we can help more people, but you have to have a nice book of business to do so.”
Laird expects Goodwill Automotive to continue growing its operations in 2016, helping the nonprofit provide more training for those in need.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV is Goodwill Automotive’s largest customer, followed by General Motors Co. and Ford Motor Co. It also provides services to parts suppliers such as Lear Corp. and Magna Inc.
Damon Sumlie, manager of the plant on Grand River near the MotorCity Casino Hotel in Detroit, said a “total transformation 10 years ago put the facility on a path to its current success. Goodwill has been a supplier to the automotive industry since it started working with Ford in 1924.
“We’re a Tier 1 supplier to them, and we have to follow the rules just like any other supplier … we learned all the rules, and how to follow them and what to do,” he said. “That’s what has made us successful.”
Workers are paid minimum wage or better — up to about $13 an hour, based on seniority and classification. Working at the assembly plant is a mix of groups: Goodwill Automotive employees, as well as those sections of the organization’s training programs that include military veterans, people who have been incarcerated and those with learning disabilities.
“When you come out, it’s hard trying to get employment. Goodwill gave me another chance to start over,” said Jeanor James, 50, of Detroit, who has worked at the facility since August.
James, a member of the organization’s “Flip the Script” program, which includes helping former inmates make the transition back into the community, previously worked in automotive manufacturing.
“For a person who doesn’t have experience in automotive, I think this would be a good start for them,” she said. “It gives them a chance to get to know the atmosphere of a plant.”
Goodwill Automotive has to bid for work like any other automotive supplier. It is unusual in one aspect of its business operations: It views turnover as a good thing.
“When people leave us, that’s a good thing, because they probably found better, outside employment, which is what we’re trying to do to bring in more people,” Laird said. “For us, turnover is a success story, and we’re really happy for them.”
Barry Frederick was in the Army for seven years before being medically discharged in 1990. He looked for work for two years before starting at Goodwill Automotive this year.
“You get to come here, and they give you some tools you can use once you get out of here … and skills that you can have that might make me marketable,” said the 54-year-old Pontiac resident. “I’m hoping I might meet the standard to get hired in here. I’d love to work here.”
Dwayne London, 26, of Detroit, plans to eventually move up to a full assembly line job with the automotive industry.
“I didn’t know Goodwill had an automotive plant until I started working here,” said London, who was hired months after starting at the facility through one of Goodwill’s programs. “I kind of liked what they were doing here, and I wanted to get hired in, so I just put in a lot of hard work and a lot of effort. It paid off.”
Anyone can apply to be an employee of Goodwill by applying for open positions at careers.goodwilldetroit.org. Those who need training or experience may also come through one of the organization’s training programs and be placed in a position. Since Goodwill’s mission is all about training, it does reserve most slots for trainee work experience. Very few positions open up.
Goodwill Industries of Greater Detroit views itself as a “social enterprise,” according to Mark Lane, director of public relations and special events.
“We create businesses to create jobs to create revenue so we’re not out there with our hands out asking for a handout,” he said.