IFB asks county for $120,000

IFB asks county for $120,000
June 01
00:00 2017

Forsyth County plans to consider a request from IFB Solutions, formerly Winston-Salem Industries for the Blind, for a $120,000 grant.

IFB is a not-for-profit located in Winston-Salem that is the largest employer of people who are blind or visually impaired in the country.  The grant is an investment in IFB’s optical manufacturing facility. It’s 10 percent of the $1.2 million project cost to modernize the facility into a full service lab. 

Currently IFB outsources 33,000 eyeglasses for anti-reflective (AR) coating and this upgrade would let IFB do this in-house. According to the request to the county, this will save 160 jobs.

David Barnwell, IFB vice president of business affairs, said this is the first time IFB has asked for a grant from the county.

“Securing this grant would be a great win-win for our community by growingtraining and job opportunities for a greatly disadvantaged segment of ourpopulation,” Barnwell said in a statement.

The request was made during the county budget process, including a verbal appeal during the public hearing on the budget last week. During budget workshops, County Commissioner Chairman Dave Plyler wanted the request included for consideration. It didn’t make it into the special appropriations in the budget, which was passed last week, but county staff does plan to bring it before the commissioners for a vote. The grant would be paid for with “pay go” funds, which comes from revenue the county has after expenditures.

Plyler said that this is good use of county money since it gives opportunity to a population with high unemployment. He praised IFB for letting people who are blind or visually impaired contribute to society, including manufacturing many things used by the military and Veterans Affairs (VA).

“That’s their way of giving back to their country,” said Plyler.

For the last 16 years, IFB Optical has provided prescription eyeglasses for 34 VA locations. Its employees produce more than 1,000 pairs of glasses daily servicing more than 830 veterans. 

IFB is currently protecting its VA optical contract in court.  It has joined other parties in suing the VA for changing its policies that require mandatory use of AbilityOne organizations. The concern is that organizations in the AbilityOne program, which was established by Congress in 1938 to provide work for people who are blind or severely disabled, may lose contracts in favor of the VA’s veteran-owned small business procurement policies.

IFB is also fighting in court against a complaint filed in August by PDS Consultants, a veteran-owned New Jersey company, challenging AbilityOne optical contracts. Dan Kelly, IFB COO, said that he heard the judge made a ruling last week that may not be in IFB’s favor, but the decision document is not publicly available as of press time due to a protective order.

Barnwell said the upgrade of IFB Optical is planned regardless of the outcome of the lawsuits.

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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