MANKATO — MRCI Workforce, which provides job opportunities for people with disabilities, is moving forward with a $3 million expansion in Mankato’s Eastwood Energy Center industrial park.
Construction should begin this summer, be completed by early next year and initially house 90 clients supported by 40 MRCI staff members.
The numbers are expected to grow to 150 and 90, respectively, by later this decade, said Brian Benshoof, CEO of MRCI, formerly Mankato Rehabilitation Center Inc.
The new 25,000-square-foot facility will house programs previously in separate sites on Front Street and in the former Highland Plaza strip mall on Monks Avenue. Those two buildings, which have been sold, had less than half the space combined as the planned facility.
“Our long-term plan has been to get into a facility that merges those two facilities with enough space to grow,” Benshoof said.
The workers do product packaging, light assembly work and other jobs for a wide range of regional companies, and the old facilities didn’t have loading docks or easy truck access, which limited opportunities to take on more work.
“They’re productive people,” Benshoof said of MRCI clients. “They wanted more work than we could give them.”
MRCI will continue to operate its 85,000-square-foot facility on Map Drive in addition to the new building on Mankato’s far east side. The Mankato City Council, operating as the city Economic Development Authority, approved the sale of the five-acre parcel for nearly $200,000.
Council members praised the service MRCI provided to area residents with disabilities, but City Manager Pat Hentges said the work done by the clients is important to area corporations, as well.
“They’re a critical function in the supply chain,” Hentges said of MRCI workers.
Founded in Mankato 60 years ago, MRCI has since expanded to Fairmont, New Ulm and three Twin Cities suburbs. Clients earned more than $3.1 million in wages in 2011, about half through center-based production jobs and half at community-based jobs ranging from restaurants to supermarkets to manufacturing firms to warehouses. The nonprofit organization also provides skills training and leisure activities for clients.
MRCI has nearly 1,000 employees in all of its programs plus about 3,500 clients, Benshoof said. With steady growth in both numbers, Benshoof said he expects the new facility to reach capacity within a few years and said there is room on the site for future expansion.
“That’s a good problem to have,” he said. “We’re kind of in the business right now of managing growth.”