Columbia Industries keeps reaching out after 50 years

Many organizations mark milestones but few have done as much for residents of the Tri-Cities as Columbia Industries during the past 50 years.

As it celebrates its golden anniversary, the organization's core mission remains unchanged -- to help people with disabilities and other barriers to employment achieve their highest employment potential, helping them become self-sufficient and productive members of the community.

CI does that through various programs, having diversified its business model over the years to include programs like CI Solutions and Shop CI that employ its clients.

Shop CI is a thrift store on Dayton Street in Kennewick, and the bright blue donation collection bins are a familiar sight throughout the Tri-Cities. Many good finds can be had at Shop CI because of strong community support.

CI Solutions does assembly and production work for businesses, including order fulfillment, applying decals to products, collation of information packets, small piecework or project assembly, preparation and processing of direct mailers, labeling of boxes, packages and newsletters and packaging, repacking and assembling items.

Current projects include making cloth welding hoods for the naval shipyard in Bremerton and assembling lanterns for Rail-Tek Supply, a manufacturer of safety lighting on Whidbey Island.

Testimonials on CI's website commend the quality of the work. One glowing note comes from a regional director for Sonic restaurants: "With the aid of your services, we were able to successfully open up two new restaurants in the Tri-Cities. Your organization quite frankly exceeded many of my expectations by providing a professional level of service that was prompt as well as flexible to the changing needs of my business."

CI's Kennewick facilities keep 75 people a day employed and an additional 25 clients work at businesses around the community.

One of the clients' favorite projects is the work they do for the Tri-City Rotary Mid-Columbia Duck Race. The clients mark each one of the 40,000 rubber ducks with a waterproof number so the winners can be determined after the ducks are dumped in the Columbia River and cross the finish line.

Columbia Industries also has a successful mobile document shredding service and a program that connects Hanford contractors with college interns.

With an annual budget of $5 million to $7 million, the nonprofit gets the bulk of its revenue from its business operations. The remainder comes from government, fundraising efforts and United Way contributions.

At the helm of all of CI's operations is President and CEO Rich Foeppel, who can be credited with much of the nonprofit's success in recent years. He says the leaders who came before him laid a great foundation for the longevity of Columbia Industries. A volunteer board of directors helps guide the ship. All involved have done a great job of diversifying the business and finding creative ways to fund it.

CI plans to celebrate 50 years with many events, including reaching out to longtime supporters with a special thank you and creating a scholarship program for clients.

Our appreciation goes out to all who helped make the first 50 years of Columbia Industries possible, and to those who will continue its mission for the next 50. Our community and its citizens are certainly the better for it.