Close to 90 percent of TAC’s employees have disabilities and the new jobs would likely include a mix of workers with and without disabilities.
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“It does impact the local community,” Brandstetter said of the contract.
TAC won the initial contract to manufacture cargo nets in 2005. The contracts are renewed automatically assuming the company continues to meet its production goals and retains quality standards. The nets are used to secure military and humanitarian aid cargo on pallets during shipment.
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The number of cargo nets the business manufactured was slashed a few years ago, in part due to automatic spending cuts implemented by the federal government in 2013, also called a sequester. In 2014 and 2015, the business was making and repairing about 7,500 cargo nets a year, Brandstetter said. Under the most recent change, workers will be producing close to that number each month.
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Officials at TAC have been talking to the Air Force about ramping up production for about a year, said Greg Gearhart, business operations manager at TAC. They were officially notified about the change about a week ago.
“They wanted to know if we could do it and we said we could,” Gearhart said.
Along with the Air Force, TAC also has contracts with several area manufacturing firms for separate projects, Brandstetter said. TAC also provides services for companies like Trutec, Rittal Corp. and Sweet Manufacturing.
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Along with making and repairing nets, workers at TAC also work in fields like metal fabrication, packaging, assembly and concrete casting. The business also grows lettuce and several herbs at a greenhouse operation, and sells the produce to area restaurants.
TAC has a waiver from minimum wage laws. It pays workers with disabilities based on a formula that uses their productivity compared with a worker without disabilities and the average pay for a particular job. That policy has been debated at the federal level in the past but remains in place for now. Brandstetter argued some of the agency’s less productive workers could be left behind if the lower pay scale is phased out.
The cargo nets remain TAC’s largest contract. The agreement with the Air Force accounted for as much as 80 percent of the work done at TAC just a few years ago, but it’s now closer to half. The company has increasingly sought work from other manufacturers as demand for the cargo nets dried up.
“We’ve put a lot of effort into growing some other contracts and that’s paid off for us,” Brandstetter said.