CINCINNATI - Michael Taylor knows the desperation of being caged by his own mistakes.
The Moeller High School grad developed a drinking problem in college, and a drug problem after dropping out. Next came a 2008 felony conviction for driving a friend to a burglary. He sobered up in jail but lost hope when he tried to get his life back on track.
“I tried program after program after program,” he said. “They never seemed to do anything. What changed for me was getting a job.”
Nehemiah Manufacturing Co. hired Taylor as a temporary production line worker in November, 2012. There have been four promotions since then. He bought his first car and his first home in Norwood. Now, the 31-year-old Mason native handles scheduling and ordering for the private-label packaging firm that has licensing deals to sell products for several Procter & Gamble Co. brands.
“I can’t imagine having a life without Nehemiah,” Taylor said “They gave me something to do day in and day out, didn’t allow me to get back into my old lifestyle or get depressed … They’re a second chance company.”
Profit With Purpose
That was the goal when Dan Meyer and Richard Palmer started Nehemiah Manufacturing in 2009, named for the Old Testament character who rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem. The company has grown from six to 70 employees. Revenue is $35 million and growing. In the process, Meyer has learned enough to prove there is a business benefit to being a second-chance company.
“Our most productive workers, most loyal workers are those that have a felony or some kind of problem for finding a job. We are profit with a purpose,” he said. “You can help those who need it most and still make money.”
Having learned that lesson, Meyer is hoping to teach it to others with a new group called the Beacon of Hope Business Alliance. It’s networking group for companies willing to hire the “hard to employ,” including those with felony convictions and people who battle addictions. Meyer sees the new alliance as comparable to Cintrifuse, the business-backed startup initiative that is bringing more venture capital to town and mentoring entrepreneurs.
“That ecosystem that’s being created will open the doors to upper and higher income jobs. What are we doing for those on the lower-income side of it? There’s so much more we can do and I think we’ll be a better community for it,” he said.
The need is well documented.
A 2010 study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C., estimated that the U.S. population of ex-felons was more than 12.3 million in 2008. Other studies estimate that figure is growing by more than 600,000 people a year.
“Our calculations suggest that in 2008 the U.S. economy lost the equivalent of 1.5 to 1.7 million workers, or roughly a 0.8 to 0.9 percentage-point reduction in the overall employment rate,” said the 2010 study. “In GDP terms, these reductions in employment cost the U.S. economy between $57 and $65 billion in lost output.”
'Help Them Along The Way'
Meyer is convinced he has a workable remedy to the problem, one that involves the use of social-service programs and a “temp to hire” employment approach that requires new employees to prove themselves – to their managers and team members – to move from the temp agency’s payroll to Nehemiah. The company has a full-time social worker who helps employees find decent housing, establish banking relationships, map out a life plan.
“What Nehemiah does is different from almost every company in Cincinnati right now,” said Brad Mueller, executive director of Jobs Plus Employment Network, a job readiness program that works with Nehemiah to find and train employees. “There are companies that will hire people with felony records and challenging pasts. There’s quite a few. But what Nehemiah does is build into their lives and mentor them and help them along the way.”
Meyer has powerful allies in his ministry, as he calls it. One of his investors is Tom Williams, president of North American Properties and co-owner of the Cincinnati Reds. The well-connected Williams holds leadership posts at the Cincinnati Business Committee, Cincinnati Center City Development Corp. and the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority.
“Our family is the capital group behind Nehemiah,” Williams said. “This mission has already changed many lives, without compromising profitability. This is one of the most meaningful endeavors we have ever been involved with.”
Procter & Gamble got Nehemiah started by licensing its Pampers Kandoo brand to the company in 2009. It also helped Nehemiah acquire in 2012 the Boogie Wipes brand of saline wipes for moms and their kids with runny noses. Late last year, P&G added three new brands to Nehemiah’s product mix: Downy Wrinkle Releaser, Febreze
Laundry Odor Eliminator and a handful of Dreft-branded products.
To accommodate the growth, Nehemiah added a 60,000-square-foot warehouse in Norwood to its packaging plant in the West End. Meyer is sticking with his original goal of growing to more than 200 employees, but he’s been careful not to add full-timers who may be subject to layoffs in downturns.
“We’re still in business to make money,” he said. “We have investors. You have to provide an adequate return. You don’t want to lose that because if you’re not growing your business, you’re going backward. You still demand excellence in everything you do, but you’re doing that with a loving hand.”
Rodney Kellogg is grateful for that approach. The 51-year-old father of seven joined Nehemiah as a temp agency worker in 2011. When he was laid off a few months later, he called Meyer. To Kellogg’s surprise, Meyer not only answered the phone himself, but he remembered Kellogg and promised to bring him back.
“Told me he missed my smile,” said Kellogg, who was rehired as a temp in May, 2011 and promoted to full-time employment in January, 2013.
“He’s the real deal,” said Kellogg. “The man is genuine.”