16:42 PM

MacDonald Training Center provides construction flags, safety vests

(May 21, 2015) - Safety vests and flags play an important role on any construction site, ensuring that all equipment and workers are visible to each other at all times. 

On Tampa International Airport’s historic expansion projects, many of these items come from the same source: The MacDonald Training Center. Orange and white flag

Employing people with developmental disabilities since 1955, the center has a robust sewing operation that produces a wide-range of goods, including several types of construction vests, orange and white checkered construction flags and wind cones. 

This year, the center plans to produce more than 6,000 safety vests and 500 flags. A large number of these will be used by the contractors and subcontractors at work on TPA’s $952 million expansion, said Tom Carter, the project manager overseeing sewing.

The training center’s sewing program is located in a relatively small room filled with sewing machines and bright pieces of cloth at the back of the organization’s large facility on West Cypress Street. It’s one of several different specialties – including packaging, light manufacturing and electronics recycling – that make up the group’s Business Enterprise Team. The team, founded about seven years ago, goes out and works directly with businesses, providing added revenue for the center and giving people with disabilities invaluable training. 

“It’s the same type of work that they would experience in the community,” said Carter. “We’re trying to get them trained up and get them out there to compete for jobs using the skills they develop here.” 

As part of this program, they package all of the SunPass transponders for the state of Florida – a major success story for the center. “That’s the 800-pound gorilla,” said Carter. 

Jermaine Lewis, the coordinator of Job Skills, said the Business Enterprise Team was created to operate for profit and offset government cutbacks, which hit the organization hard when the recession hit. 

Since the program was created, they’ve revitalized their sewing program, adding more people and bringing on Carter, who spent decades in apparel manufacturing with VF Corporation, the world’s largest apparel company.

He said he helped triple the size of the sewing operation – from two to six people. Disabled people help on a variety of tasks, including folding and packaging the goods, and earn wages for work performed.