“It’s not about a handout or even about minimum wage, it’s about how you treat people; a holistic program of support that gives employees what they really need to sustain success.”
Tom Williams believes in inclusive capitalism and its potential to win the ongoing fight against poverty in the U.S., and shares that it really works. “Among other things, it’s about widening your aperture on the types of people you’re willing to hire, and really taking care of them when you bring them into your company,” Williams says. “And that’s the real story behind our success with Nehemiah Manufacturing.” In 2009, Tom partnered with Cincinnati-based entrepreneur Dan Meyer and strategic business planner Richard Palmer in bringing their newest vision to life: a locally focused manufacturing company designed to develop products for sub-brands too small for Cincy-based Procter & Gamble to manufacture efficiently at scale. It’s something Meyer had done before, but this time the mission was different. “We thought we’d build our facility in a tough part of town where we could create jobs for people who need them, alongside creating a profitable business,” says Williams. Soon after opening in Cincinnati’s West End however, the group was asked by City Gospel Mission if they’d be interested in taking on an ex-con as an employee. “We thought about it and decided to give it a shot. Second chances, right?” Long story short, Nehemiah Manufacturing (named for a biblical figure credited with rebuilding the broken-down walls of Jerusalem), wound up populating their entire shop floor with former felons and ex-cons, and today around 80 of the company’s 130 or so employees is a second-chance success story.
For someone who’s been incarcerated, the roadblocks to gaining stable employment are incredibly daunting. “If these people get a job, they immediately have a handful of big problems. They need clothes. Transportation. Childcare. Often counseling,” Williams admits. “It’s not an easy road for them, or an easy decision for a company to hire them.” Undaunted, Dan and the Nehemiah crew learned how to onboard, support and ultimately cultivate second-chance citizens into invested, loyal employees. Partner organizations Cincinnati Works and CityLink take individuals directly off the street and send them through an intensive 10-day coaching program to help them be “ready to work.” Those programs then hand candidates off to Nehemiah, but don’t lose touch, collaborating with the manufacturing company’s in-house coaches and counselors to ensure people continue to thrive—and grow—in their new positions over time.
Tom admits that it’s a risk, but, statistically, a good one. “Our sales are very high. Our turnover should be about 80 percent for this type of work…but it’s about 12 percent,” he says of Nehemiah. “We save a ton by not having to continually train and onboard new employees. They just won’t leave.”
There are dozens of stories. The high-school dropout and single mother now working the production line by day and attending community college by night. The felon turned down for job after job before finding Nehemiah, finding hope for the future for the first time. The former drug addict who’s risen through six promotions to run the company’s shop floor. It’s what happens, Williams says, when you add education, support, training, transportation and housing opportunities to the simple idea of treating employees like human beings deserving of respect rather than human capital.
“You take care of your people, and they’ll take care of you.”
NAP is proud to beat the drum of this very human and very rewarding way of doing business, and encourages companies to consider their ability to create change with what they do, who they hire, and how they can provide second chances. Visit Beacon of Hope Business Alliance or local news story From convicted felon to valued worker: A formula for success to learn more.
“When you do this, when you engage in inclusive capitalism, the business case is as compelling as the moral one.”