The Houston Area Chamber of Commerce held a ceremonial ribbon cutting Friday in honor of the 25th anniversary of Opportunity Sheltered Industries, Inc., a company that employs more than 30 citizens of Texas County.

They go to work every day and perform valuable contract work for several companies in the Ozarks. They know that their jobs of assembling, packaging, cleaning and otherwise preparing items for use or market is a needed service to those companies.

But the employees of Opportunity Sheltered Industries, Inc. (OSI) also go to the company’s warehouse in Houston for another reason: it gives them a purpose.

That purpose – and the feeling of importance it subsequently brings to the lives of those involved – has been being offered since OSI opened for business in 1987. The company’s 25th anniversary was honored last Friday by a large number of county residents, including family and friends of the employees, and others from all walks of life.

Manager Sharon Tyger has been OSI’s leader for 10 years and has been working there since its inception.

“Every employee I have has a physical, mental or emotional handicap that keeps them from being able to get and keep competitive employment,” Tyger said. “Our goal is to help them either get to a point where they can be competitively employed, or employ them here if we don’t think that’s going to be a possibility. Some people work here for a while and develop some self-confidence and skills and are able to move on to other jobs, others stay. It all depends on what their capability of learning is.

“We try to focus more on their ability instead of their disability, and finding what they can do and how they can progress.”

Among the tasks performed by OSI workers are packaging hardware and catalogs for Wood Pro, a cabinetry firm in Cabool, and processing cardboard for Invensys Appliance Control of West Plains for use in packaging appliance parts (like control knobs for stoves).

The company also offers custom embroidery for anyone who wants it, deals with goods for Evans Sporting Goods and GAMO, and processes mailing for Landmark Bank. It’s also equipped with industrial washers and dryers and does countless loads of laundry for Texas County Memorial Hospital.

But one of the main jobs OSI does is putting trinkets in and assembling a huge number of plastic Easter eggs for National Entertainment Technologies (NET) in Marshfield. In fact, about a million eggs pass through OSI workers’ hands each year.

“We’d like to do a couple million,” Tyger said. “NET is a neat company. They have their eggs made in the United States, and they try to get their trinkets and things in the U.S., too., but some of those have to come in from China.”

Also known as a sheltered workshop, OSI is affiliated with the Missouri Association of Sheltered Workshop Managers (MASWM). Tyger is state representative of MASWM Area 8, which includes nine workshops.

There are 92 workshops in Missouri. Most counties have at least one, and some of the more populous urban counties have more than one.

OSI employees are paid through a special system set by the federal government that allows for sub-minimum wage compensation. In effect, they’re paid based on their production.

“The good point is that our people can make as much as they can make,” Tyger said. “But we pay for what is being produced, so we can afford to be competitive.”

Tyger said comprehensive time studies are done before the company commits to jobs, so potential clients can be given an accurate bid up front. But once a bid is submitted and accepted, it’s set in stone. Although rare, any cost overruns must be absorbed by OSI.

“We’re a ready work force, easily trained and we will tell you what it will cost for us to do something for you,” Tyger said.

All OSI employees must be residents of Texas County, as the company is supported by a voter-approved tax levy. Funding is overseen by a 10-member volunteer board, with representation from all areas of the county. When the company needs funds, Tyger submits a request to the board.

OSI receives its state certification through the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, and currently employs 34 people. Tyger said there’s a waiting list of about 15 more.

“Hopefully production will pick up so we can put more of those people on,” she said. “But when the economy is slow, companies do less subcontracting. We like to stay at around 40 to 42 – the building is designed to handle 75.”

OSI is also receives per diem funding from the state, and brings in money through its own production.

After occupying a location on Highway B just east of Highway 63 for about 15 years (where Hartville Feed is now), OSI moved into its new building located on Opportunity Circle Drive, off of Industrial Avenue.

Tyger said the biggest benefit OSI brings to the surrounding community is simple: money.

“By state survey, money earned in a sheltered workshop turns around in the state of Missouri – usually in your local county – more than five times,” she said. “So even if we’re giving a dollar in tax money that was brought in, that same dollar is circulated within the county several times. Most of our people don’t travel a lot; they do their shopping, go to the doctor, and do their business locally, so any of that dollar that comes in from county aid goes around the county five times.

“Also, everyone working here is paying social security. They might be drawing from it, too, but they’re putting some back in there. It’s of course based on what they earn, but that’s a good benefit.”

Some OSI workers drive their own vehicles, others take advantage of city transportation. Some have been employees of the firm for more than a decade – and a handful have been there all 25 years – while others are in their first year.

But all show up for work because they want to.

“Everybody has to have a reason to get up in the morning,” Tyger said. “When you have a job and you feel like you’re important and you have something important to do, it’s a lot easier to do get up and get dressed than if you think, ‘I’ve got another day of nothing to do.’

“So it’s good – and not only for the employees, but for the community. It’s hard to imagine what some of these people would be doing if they weren’t working here.”

We try to focus more on their ability instead of their disability, and finding what they can do and how they can progress.”

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