Salisbury, N.C. — Plastic additive maker Carolina Color Corp. has an unusual way of finding workers: It recruits mostly from the local prison.
Finding and keeping a solid workforce is a vexing problem for all manufacturers, but the company leans heavily on hiring convicted felons — 21 of the 25 employees on the production floor at its Salisbury factory are former or current inmates.
While employing prisoners might scare off some, Chairman and CEO Matt Barr said the company started hiring from the penitentiary in 1990 because it was having trouble finding and retaining factory workers. Altruism, seeing people from prison get a new start, has certainly become part of the company's motivation. But the effort has clear value to the bottom line, he said.
"It's been a great tool for us to develop a consistent workforce, train them according to our needs and ultimately as important or more important, give these gentlemen an opportunity to get some footing so that when they come out of the prison system they have an opportunity to turn their lives around," Barr said.
The company, which makes colorants for plastics, works closely with the minimum-security unit of a prison in Salisbury, the Piedmont Correctional Institution, which runs a formal work-release program.
The prison will typically screen and send four inmates for each opening. All the prisoners have earned places in the lowest level of security even within the minimum-security unit, enough to be trusted to leave daily.
The program has strict rules for inmates, like random drug testing, no cell phones and no visitors at work while they remain in prison.
As well, Carolina Color won't take inmates convicted of certain crimes, like sex offenses, and does its own interviewing and screening, Barr said.