Special Best Buy effort helps those with needs

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By Stephen Thomas

 SHEPHERDSVILLE - There is something special about the operations of the new Best Buy distribution center in the Cedar Grove Business Park.

And many people would not even notice. Which is just fine with company officials.

Of the 200 employees planned for the facility, each will possess their own special abilities. Pam Smyth, director of the center, said Best Buy wanted to be able to have a facility that would bring out the special abilities in all their workers, even those who might have a few challenges.

With Walgreens being a national model on employing workers with different abilities, Best Buy officials decided to seek some of that wisdom.

For Willie Byrd, director of the local Options Unlimited agency, it has been exactly what local adults with challenges have been awaiting.

Smyth said Options Unlimited has been a major partner in supplying workers.

“They have helped us create an awesome environment,” said Smyth.

Best Buy presented Options Unlimited a $5,000 check for its assistance.

Jerianne Swierzewski, vice president of logistics operations for Best Buy, said the company learned of the great work Walgreens had done at its Anderson, S.C., facility, where up to 35 percent of its workforce may have had some type of special challenge.

“They inspired us to follow their dream,” said Swierzewski.

“It’s been fantastic,” Byrd said of the working relationship with Best Buy.

The project has been a year in the making but it is exactly what Options Unlimited was formed for over 20 years ago.

“It’s been pretty amazing to be part of it all,” said Byrd.

Thanks to the federal stimulus money for jobs, Byrd said this is a classic example of how the economic program was supposed to work.

Options Unlimited is just one of the agencies training workers for Best Buy. His agency has 2-3 staff members on site each day. In terms of employees, he said 8-9 have been hired from Options Unlimited clients.

Going into the project, Byrd said he didn’t know how many of the young adults would have the skills necessary to work at Best Buy.

“They have to perform their duties up to par with the other employees,” said Byrd. “We were worried in the beginning on how many workers we could train and supply.”

The partnership has been fantastic as young adults with challenges are employed and becoming self-dependent.

Byrd said this should let other distribution companies in the community know that those with special challenges can perform in the workforce and provide valuable employees.

“They work hard and they show up to work,” said Byrd. “Plus, it’s hard for other employees to complain when they see the challenges their co-workers overcome on a daily basis and do their jobs without complaining.”

After a tough year in 2009 in getting adults placed into jobs, Byrd said the partnership with Best Buy has been phenomenal.

“Best Buy truly sees the value in a diversified workforce,” said Byrd. “Our people work hard and they can do the job. It is a wonderful arrangement for all parties.”

He hopes that this success would allow Options Unlimited to expand some to help train others for job skills.

More importantly, Byrd said he hopes that this dispels some of the stereotypes that those with special needs can’t function.

“They can work and they can be a valuable part of our community,” said Byrd.

When employees are hired, Smyth said everyone is expected to perform the same task at the same ability level. There is no quota and there is no guarantee that anyone would receive a job.

In each of the departments, she said there is someone who may have a disability. But the key is spending time with each person to see what special skills they have and how to best utilize those skills.

“It is good business to hire the best people and we do,” said Swierzewski. 

Shae McGahey, logistics human resources manager, said it is appropriate to have a celebration for a group of employees who like to celebrate.

She said the wonderful team focuses on the strengths of each employee to make the company better.

“Our team is the center of our success,” said McGahey. “You are the reason we are as successful as we are.”