CORALVILLE — Goodwill of the Heartland will kick off operations for a new oil packaging plant in Coralville beginning next week.
The organization received its final approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Tuesday, and will start packaging vegetable oil next week.
Jessica Schamberger, vice president of operations for Goodwill of the Heartland, said the organization first went after the business in 2013, but was not selected and had to revisit discussions again in 2017.
Since then, Goodwill officials worked on negotiating prices with the USDA, selecting the site and hiring staff.
Schamberger said Goodwill is among 500 other not-for-profits across the country that do work for a federal set-aside program called AbilityOne.
AbilityOne employs nearly 45,000 individuals who are blind or have significant disabilities.
Plant Director Jon Olson said that many of the employees already are working on-site, at about 10 people total working when it is fully operational next week.
The plant currently has job coaches on-site to bring in a few individuals with disabilities to work.
“The pandemic made it hard to bring in people with disabilities,” Olson said. “But now with things opening up more, we can hire them.”
The oil the workers are packaging is to be distributed to about 80 million people who are food insecure around the world, Schamberger said. The opportunity allows for Goodwill to explore a new avenue, one that not many know about, she said.
The USDA currently is the only customer for Goodwill’s oil, but the organization sees the potential to grow the packaging operation to other federal contracts and customers.
“From a training perspective, this is a field where there is high demand for jobs that we can train people really well,” Schamberger. “That’s a big part of Goodwill’s mission — to train and help people find jobs.”
Within the new plant includes shiny new machinery with touchscreen technology, varying scaling devices and a new quality lab.
Back in 2013, Iowa was chosen as a good site for the oil packaging plant due to the production of soybeans and the talent of food manufacturers.
“... Our stores exist to fund our mission, opportunities just like this one,” said Mindy Kayser, vice president of marketing for Goodwill.
“In addition to retail experience, we have manufacturing experience, too. We’ve been partnering with the local manufacturing sector for decades providing contracted labor, which in turn creates training and employment opportunities.”
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The new packaging facility, she said, “is just one more way for us to create good paying jobs and skills training for people with barriers to independence.”
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