Ribbon-cutting opens new Productive Alternatives Inc. building


(Pictured: Susanne Strack-Smith, branch manager for the Productive Alternatives, Inc. Little Falls office, cut the ceremonial ribbon marking the official opening of the agency’s new building. Holding the ribbon were Toby Bakken, drafter/designer for Hammers Construction of Perham which built the building, and Chris Nelson, Director of Rehabilitation for Productive Alternatives. On hand for the celebration were PAI staff members, Carol Anderson of Community Development for Morrison County, Morrison County commissioners, Little Falls City Council members and City Administrator Rich Carlson. The new 4,125 square-foot building is located in the city’s Industrial Park on the west side on land purchased from the city for $1. Staff photo by Joyce Moran)

PAI is a non-profit corporation, established over 40 years ago to promote the social welfare by providing vocational, rehabilitation, training, habilitation, employment and developmental services to disabled persons. These services are designed to enable the clients to develop their highest individual potential while moving toward normal lives in the workplace and community.

The headquarters for PAI is in Fergus Falls. The Little Falls office is one of six branches found throughout the state. Begun in 1994, the first local office was located in the Historic Court House. Its latest home was on 2nd Avenue SE.

With state and federal funds, along with grants, PAI employees actually train and coach the clients for regular jobs in the community. They then also help them find jobs, provide transportation to their jobs and give on-the-job training.

The Little Falls PAI office currently has between 80 and 90 clients. Barriers to employment for them may include developmental disabilities, physical and sensory disabilities, a mental illness, an acquired brain injury, a learning disability or simply the fact of being economically disadvantaged.

“A client may even have a college degree, but lack skills in co-worker relations, attendance or other job-keeping skills,” explained Susanne Strack-Smith, branch manager of the Little Falls PAI office. “Every plan we develop is for the individual.”

Most clients are referred to PAI by agencies such as Rural MN CEP, County Social Services and school districts. However, it is possible for a person to be referred by a friend, family member or employer.

“We have clients working in 10 or 12 sites currently,” related Strack-Smith. “All are getting paid by their employer, with the average wage being about $8.25 an hour, with benefits included. Our largest employer is the Grand Casino where we have 34 people working. Another employer with quite a few of our clients is Redwood Industries in Pierz.”

The 19 staff members at the local PAI office, in addition to Strack-Smith, include case managers, employment trainers and job coaches. The office also has a fleet of seven vans for transporting the clients to their jobs. Part of the new building is a garage for the vans.

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