Southeastern Kentucky Rehabilitation Industries (SEKRI) celebrated the opening of its new Middlesboro plant on Monday with a ribbon cutting hosted by Bell County Judge-Executive Albey Brock. There were several prominent guests including Middlesboro Mayor Rick Nelson, Pineville Mayor Scott Madon and featured speaker U.S. Congressman Hal Rogers.
Following a prayer by Rev. William Boyd Bingham, Brock opened the ceremony by acknowledging the 100 or so people in attendance.
“It’s always good to have engagement. This is a really good crowd and I, for one, am humbled every time we assemble en masse. It lets me know that my community is engaged in what’s going on and is supporting it,” he said.
The Middlesboro plant is SEKRI’s seventh. They employee 735 people in the state of Kentucky and well over 400 of those are significantly disabled.
“SEKRI is a great organization and I’m glad there are this many people here to see what we do,” said Ed Harris, SEKRI Chairman of the Board. “Just imagine the people that we’re serving, a lot of them just wouldn’t have work. It’s not a charity thing, it’s a teaching them how to work thing.”
Norm Bradley is SEKRI’s CEO. He said the company exists to provide jobs for people with those significant disablities.
“Approximately 75 percent of the people that work for us have some type of documented disability,” he said. “We are proud to be a part of this community and we want to be an active part of this community for a long time to come.”
The Middlesboro plant will be similar in size to the plant in Pineville that opened in 2017. There are currently 85 people working at the Pineville plant. Middlesboro currently has about 12 employees but SEKRI plans to hire about 10 each month until they get up to between 75 and 100.
The Middlesboro plant will be producing tents that are back-packable for LiteFighter, a company that contracts with the U.S. Army.
LiteFighter owner Rick Coachys said that partnering with SEKRI is a big part of his company’s future.
“We have a great relationship with SEKRI. We needed some help in making our products,” he said. “We’re backordered and we keep getting more and more orders so we know we’re going to be able to supply lots of jobs here with SEKRI.
“We’re looking at becoming THE Army tent, which has to be made by an ability one company. We are planning on making SEKRI that ability one company that will make all of the tents in the future for the Army.”
Pineville Mayor Scott Madon said SEKRI has been a great neighbor to Pineville.
“I’d like to have ten SEKRIs in my community, that’s how good they are,” he said. “It’s one of the finest companies that I’ve ever had the opportunity to work with.”
Middlesboro Mayor Rick Nelson said the company and the jobs it is bringing is a “Godsend for the Middlesboro area. It’s a stepping stone that we need.”
Rogers shared that Bell County has been a critical part of his plans and ambitions during his time as congressman. He said he was especially pleased to see needed jobs coming to the area.
“That is what we have needed the most here,” Rogers said. “We are losing this big economy that we had with coal and we are all trying to reimagine our future and recreate a whole new economy.”
He thanked the leaders of SEKRI for planting their roots in southern and eastern Kentucky.
“(You are) giving our people the opportunity to make a living that has been turned away by other companies due to a disability or substance abuse disorder,” Rogers said. “Not only is this their seventh location in Kentucky but the fifth in our region, five in the area that I represent in, and we thank you so much for thinking of us but you have learned that we have the best workforce in the country.”
The Congressman added that he sees a lot of potential for growth in our local economy.
“We’ve got very skilled and talented workers who are looking for a job. SEKRI is a special place, and I remember going to the dedication over in Corbin, the first of the plants in our area, but I feel this one is going to be highly successful.”
Rogers also praised the cooperative efforts of Brock, Madon and Nelson in providing good leadership for the community.
“Albey (Brock) is a big piece of what we call SOAR, Saving Our Appalachian Region, and that organization covers 42 counties including Bell,” Rogers said. “Their effort is to rethink what we can do to make a living, think outside the box, and think different thoughts. You’re brilliant people and we are trying to harness that energy and that intelligence and that experience to rethink our future and do things that we have not thought about before.”