Victoria STEPS location to close

Published 10:07 am Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Sharon Harrup

The STEPS Inc. job training and manufacturing operation in Victoria will close its doors in the next few weeks, a statement from the nonprofit cited Monday.

A news release cited that approximately 30 employees and their families were notified about the development March 4.

“It was a painful decision that was made with the support of the STEPS Board,” STEPS President and CEO Sharon Harrup said in the release. “But it simply was not financially viable to continue operating at the site. We did not, however, believe we should close the operation until we had an employment option for the nine individuals with disabilities.”

There is no set date for plant closure, according to the release. STEPS will continue to fill orders on hand until each customer order is completed on a specific production line.

According to the release, six of the nine individuals with disabilities were offered employment with STEPS’ secure document destruction and recycling businesses located near the Farmville headquarters.

“We anticipate transferring five employees with disabilities to that site and one individual may be employed at our regional recycling center,” Harrup said.

The remaining employees without disabilities, according to the release, are being offered resources through the South Central Workforce Development Board and the Virginia Employment Commission.

Letters with resource information and contact information are being distributed this week, the release cited.

Victoria Town Manager Rodney Newton said the town will feel the loss of the facility, but said he was glad for the measures put in place to secure employment for those who worked there.

“The Town of Victoria is sorry to hear of the upcoming closing of the STEPS facility in Victoria,” Newton said. “The loss of any business is a blow to the community, but we understand that business decisions have to be made. The town is glad to hear that many of the workers already have opportunities for work with STEPS or are being assisted to find new employment.”

The Victoria site at 300 Court St. has been in operation by STEPS for more than 22 years for manufacturing and job training, according to the release.

The location initially opened in 1997 with a Department of Defense contract for 100,000 Battle Dress Uniform coats. More than 100 employees, according to the release, worked at the site at the height of production, but STEPS was forced to give up the military work in 2014 due to an escalation of raw material costs.

The Victoria location was able to continue manufacturing products for commercial vendors, which including Taaluma Totes, a product featured on the ABC Network television series “Shark Tank,” according to the release.

STEPS has notified four existing customers and connected them with an agency in Southwest Virginia that also employs adults with disabilities in manufacturing operations.

“We at STEPS want to extend our appreciation to the Lunenburg County Industrial Development Authority for the use of the Victoria site and our gratitude to the Lunenburg County Board of Supervisors for their unwavering support of our job training and manufacturing operation,” Harrup said in the release. “It’s been our honor to have had a physical presence in the Town of Victoria for so long.”

“We are in the process of developing an individual supported employment model which will have job coaches work one-to-one with our folks with disabilities,’ Harrup said. “This will permit our neighbors with disabilities to work in a completely integrated environment.

“Many know that employment for individuals with disabilities is what drew me to this organization,” Harrup continued. “It was our core service and will once again become a focal point of our service delivery system. While closing the Victoria operation is quite emotional, I am steadied by the factor that we provided manufacturing opportunities for over 22 years in that location.

But the times have changed and so must we.”