A partnership that continues to improve lives
Oct 23, 2020

A partnership that started 30 years ago between a New York-based provider of services to people who are blind and a global manufacturer continues today, helping to improve lives in both organizations.

“As a person who is visually impaired, the challenges are daily. ABVI has taught me how to handle the challenges head on,” said John Scott, a plant team lead at the Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (ABVI) in Rochester, New York.

ABVI works to prepare and empower children and adults who are blind or visually impaired. One of the ways they are able to do this, is through an ongoing partnership with 3M, National Industries for the Blind (NIB), and the AbilityOne® Program.

For 30 years, ABVI has been manufacturing self-stick products, made with 3M materials, for use in federal markets under the SKILCRAFT® brand. SKILCRAFT products are made by people who are blind or visually impaired working at NIB associated nonprofit agencies, and sold to the federal government through the AbilityOne Program, which is the largest employment resource in the United States for people who are blind or have significant disabilities.

“Some of us have more barriers and challenges than others, and 3M has helped us level the playing field” said Phil Ercolamento, Manager of SKILCRAFT Self-stick production operations at ABVI. Phil Ercolamento is a 30-year employee of ABVI and is legally blind.


A 30-year partnership

In 1990, ABVI approached NIB and asked to begin researching how to manufacture self-stick notes and offer them to federal customers through the AbilityOne Program. When it realized it wouldn’t be able to develop the technology on its own, NIB reached out to 3M.

ABVI sent a team to the 3M plant in Cynthiana, Kentucky, where Post-it® Notes are produced, to learn about the manufacturing process. The visit was the start of a first-of-its-kind partnership. No SKILCRAFT producing agency had ever partnered with a commercial company before.

3M helped source the machines needed to produce the product and helped source the raw materials for ABVI, while ABVI renovated an old knitting mill in Rochester for its production facility. The only floorspace that could support the weight of the machinery was in the basement, so ABVI turned the basement into a well-lit manufacturing space.


Today and tomorrow

What started with three products has grown over the 30-year partnership into 37 different products. Beyond the basic yellow note, ABVI now manufactures easel pads, flags and page markers in many different colors and sizes. All of the products are labeled, “Created by Americans who are blind using quality 3M materials.”

Not only does this manufacturing plant provide jobs for people who are blind and visually impaired, but the revenue supports ABVI’s vision rehabilitation work and other services for the community it serves.

The partnership also benefits 3M by making the products available to a larger section of the government market. “This is a long-term relationship that we hope to continue to champion and foster because it serves so many good tenants. Good business, a good program that helps folks who are visually impaired and a good opportunity to grow together. It’s a win-win-win,” said Rory Yanchek, vice president and general manager of 3M Government Markets.

The partnership has grown beyond just ABVI and Post-it® notes. 3M now works with NIB to produce other 3M products through NIB associated nonprofit agencies around the country.

“Once 3M committed to working with the program, they were all in. We couldn’t have asked for a better partner. And that has continued on with the other product lines we have been able to work with 3M to bring in,” said NIB President and CEO Kevin Lynch. “The mentality and commitment on the part of 3M has been incredible.”

The 3M partnership has also served as a roadmap for partnering with other NIB associated agencies for manufacturing needs.

“This partnership has changed the lives of hundreds and hundreds of people and altered the destiny of the organization. It clearly would not have been possible without this partnership. 3M made us who we are today,” said Dr. Gidget Hopf, former president and CEO of ABVI.

To learn more about ABVI and the work it does in its community, click here.


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