Bestwork Industries for the Blind was able to move into a larger facility in Cherry Hill thanks to a joint loan from TD Bank and the New Jersey Economic Development Authority
When Bestwork looked to move to a bigger building in Cherry Hill, it turned to the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (EDA)’s Small Business Fund for support.
CHERRY HILL – Inside a 50,000-square-foot building on Olney Avenue sits a hidden, blind workforce.
Together, they manufacture and distribute a variety of supplies and equipment for the military, government administrations and commercial firms.
Employees include John Wescott, a 57-year-old, visually impaired U.S. Army veteran who spends hours sewing camouflage pockets for military pants.
“I never thought I would be able to do this,” Wescott said, quickly adding a pocket to his large pile.
A five-year employee, Wescott joked, “I’m an old timer now. It’s been a blessing.”
With recent financial assistance from TD Bank and the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, the company is ramping up expansion.
The $3 million in loans allowed Bestwork to purchase a new, larger facility in 2013 to accommodate a growing staff and provide more training opportunities for the blind community.
The joint loan was part of the administration’s Small Business Fund program that offers assistance to qualified businesses and nonprofits through direct loans, participations or guarantees. Businesses approved for the loan receive a fixed interest rate and an expedited approval process. Businesses in operation for at least one year, and nonprofits in operation for at least three years, are eligible for assistance.
Since James Varsaci, a World War II vet who lost his sight during the war, founded the company in 1981, the company has grown to 82 workers, 50 of which are blind or visually impaired.
EDA President and Chief Operating Officer Tim Lizura toured the facility Wednesday in an effort to highlight financial resources available to small businesses throughout the state. He called the operation “impressive.”
“The team here isn’t only manufacturing an impressive amount of items but they’re also creating opportunities for those in the blind and visually impaired community.
“There’s a lot of people out there who can’t do half the job that the people do in here,” Lizura added.
The tour was part of the authority’s “EDA Was Here,” social media campaign to highlight how small businesses like Bestwork have overcome obstacles through funding.
In the coming months, Bestwork President and Chief Executive Officer Belinda Moore hopes to recruit an additional 20 trainees from the blind community.
“Our new location is nearly double the space that we had been using,” Moore said. “We are grateful that the Small Business Fund has enabled us to expand into a larger location, increasing our manufacturing capabilities and reaching a broader customer base.”
Before moving to Cherry Hill, Bestwork was in Runnemede, moving there in 1999 after outgrowing its Westmont building.
“We have increased our capabilities to produce more complex items. We always knew we were on the right track, we just didn’t have the space to take on more,” she added. With the expansion, Moore hopes to gain new clients for commercial products.
Bestwork manufactures more than 50 products for the government and local businesses. The company’s varied product line also includes safety clothing, vinyl tool bags, laundry nets, and polishing and wiping cloths, industrial paper, and adult diapers. They also make clothing for the Army, Air Force and Navy.
New hires go through a six-week training program that cross-trains them on how to use the various machinery for each job. As they progress, they are moved onto the floor to become a part of the production line.
Roxann Brooks, of Philadelphia, has been with Bestwork for 11 years. As part of her job, each day she sews together approximately 1,000 zipper tracks for military fleece pullovers.
“It goes fast,” Brooks said. “I’ve worked my entire life but many of the jobs I had in the past condemned me because of my eyesight. I love it here. It gives me a great opportunity to work.”
The EDA has been active in providing financial support to companies statewide. In 2015, the administration provided more than $32 million to 55 companies through its small business lending programs, according to Lizura.
In March, the EDA and TD Bank closed a loan under the small-business loan program with Carteret-based Aldo Design Group, a family-owned flooring and interior products outlet for retail and commercial customers and home builders. The company received a line of credit for working capital and a loan to refinance an existing mortgage.
Courier Post of Southern Jersey
Matt Flowers: (856) 486-2913; firstname.lastname@example.org