Chicago — Inside a plant at 95th Street and Cottage Grove Avenue sit two massive injection molding machines primed to make compostable plastic utensils. They're also going to make workers.
This is the new home of BSD Industries, a social enterprise that will train individuals in robotics, preparing them for jobs that manufacturers are struggling to fill. As she shows off the $250,000 machines, Trista Bonds, 45, vice president of engineering and manufacturing operations, is clear about what she's building.
"We teach, not a process, but the components that support processes in manufacturing, because then you have the opportunity to work pretty much in any industrial environment and have skills to handle the technology," she says. "We're not making plastics technicians, or welding techs, or food processing techs. We're making automation techs."
For that, JPMorgan Chase has earmarked $500,000 of the $40 million it is donating to Chicago for BSD Industries. In a Sept. 14 op-ed for Business Insider, Chase CEO Jamie Dimon wrote that "Trista inspires me. She reminds me that there is hope for solving our biggest challenges and helping more Americans get on a path to a better life."
That work extends beyond the factory walls. Besides making flatware and making workers, BSD Industries plans to make money. It is structured as a low-profit limited liability company, halfway between a traditional business and nonprofit. BSD's profits on sales to the University of Chicago's hospitals, Hyatt Hotels and other customers will fund the community-building activities of its owner, the Woodlawn-based Arthur M. Brazier Foundation, which since 2012 has supported neighborhood stakeholders to reduce crime, improve schools and boost local business.
The Rev. Byron Brazier chairs the foundation named after his father and pastors the 18,000 congregants at Woodlawn's Apostolic Church of God. He says that in three years, he expects BSD to distribute $250,000 to each of Woodlawn's six schools annually, another $750,000 to the foundation's public safety initiative, to fund an economic development plan and to create an endowment with the remainder. "It creates a cycle of self-sufficiency," he says.
Brazier named BSD. It stands for "building self-determination."
Bonds, an engineer by trade, has about 20 years' experience in electrics, robotics and control systems. She served in the U.S. Army for eight years, attending night classes at community college while stationed in El Paso, Texas. She next studied electrical engineering at Tuskegee University, going to work for Ford after graduation. She came to Chicago in 2004 and worked for Oak Brook sink-maker Elkay Manufacturing.