Breaking barriers: Lakestate kicks off yearly campaign

ESCANABA – Lakestate Industries in Escanaba is currently raising money as part of its third annual endowment fund campaign.

The organization helps people overcome barriers to employment while learning new job skills, maximizing their own abilities, and supporting them in reaching their highest level of employment and community inclusion.

“The endowment fund is really meant for the future of Lakestate along with, at some point, being able to take the interest off this money…and serve people that don’t have a funding source,” explained Cheryl Ohman, executive director of Lakestate Industries.

Most people served by the organization are referred to by Pathways Community Mental Health or Michigan Rehab Services, but Ohman said there are still many individuals who fall through the cracks.

“These people may not be eligible for Pathways or Michigan Rehab and they really struggle to find employment and keep employment. That’s what we’re in business to do – to help people find jobs and keep jobs,” she said.

This year the organization celebrates its 40th year incorporated as Lakestate Industries, which originally began with arts and crafts type projects to give those served something to do and look forward to each day.

“Since then we’ve created way more jobs,” added Ohman. “We now serve 200 people versus when they started, there was only eight people being served.”

The community has been very supportive of the services Lakestate Industries offers, which includes shredding documents, assembling pallets for several local companies, working at the county’s recycling center, building furniture, and creating Yooper Fire Starters, which are made entirely of recycled materials.

“We’re a business, but we also partner with other businesses to help them and they help us by giving us work,” she said. “It’s really a win-win-win situation. Ultimately our workers win because they have work. There are a lot of facilities around the country where they don’t always have work for their people, but that’s not the case here.”

Lakestate Industries shreds documents for more than 100 different companies, has more than 20 contracts for janitorial work in the community, and assembles approximately 500 fire starters a day, which usually sell as quickly as they are made, said Ohman. They also sell firewood to the community and have experienced a great holiday season for their furniture sales.

“This Christmas has been awesome. We’ve really sold a lot of furniture locally,” she said. “At one time the furniture was only sold to the outdoor organizations like Wildlife Unlimited or Ducks Unlimited and were sold to be used at their fundraisers… but we sell way more now to the general public than we do to the outdoor organizations actually.”

With its success in Delta County, Lakestate Industries officially expanded into Marquette in July, providing janitorial and document destruction services, creating Yooper Fire Starters, and working some lawn jobs in the summer.

Ohman said the goal is to eventually expand to include some woodworking components like at the Escanaba facility.

“In Marquette we started with serving 38 people and now we’re up to 87 people that we’re serving,” said Ohman. “The forecast basically is that we will probably grow even bigger up there because Marquette’s just a bigger community.”

Ohman said it would be hard to imagine a community like Escanaba without an organization like Lakestate Industries and the services it provides to its workers.

“It’s a very rewarding job to know that you’ve created something that basically – it fulfills people,” she said. “It gives people a reason to get up in the morning and to feel needed and wanted.”

To make a donation to the Lakestate Industries Endowment Fund, look for the envelope in today’s edition of the Daily Press.

For more on Lakestate Industries visit their website at, call 786-9212 or visit them at 1830 N. 21st St., Escanaba.