Walgreen Co. has launched a distribution center where 30% of the workers are disabled.

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New Walgreens warehouse creates jobs for disabled

April 15th, 2009

WINDSOR, Conn. – Walgreen Co. has launched a distribution center where 30% of the workers are disabled.

“A special thank-you to Walgreens for recognizing that we can incorporate those with disabilities into the workforce,” Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell said at the opening ceremony for the Windsor facility last month. “When some people said it can’t be done, Walgreens said that is not an acceptable answer.”

Employees with disabilities are trained at an on-site facility to work side by side with other workers, with the same productivity goals and earning the same pay. Disabilities range from autism and retardation to hearing and physical impairments.

“We’ve worked technology and creativity into every inch of this place, but the people here will amaze you,” remarked Walgreens senior vice president of supply chain and logistics Randy Lewis. “We originally went into this project wanting to change the work environment but soon discovered we were the ones who changed in dramatic and wonderful ways.”

The $280 million Windsor distribution center, Walgreens’ 15th, has more than 240 employees. At full capacity it will employ nearly 800.

The 670,000-square-foot facility will serve hundreds of Walgreens stores throughout the Northeast. The center is expected to be 20% more efficient than the company’s previous generation of DCs and has some of the most innovative logistics systems in the distribution industry.

Walgreens worked with the Connecticut Bureau of Rehabilitation Services and with Community Enterprises Inc., a nonprofit based in Massachusetts, to adapt and implement specialized training developed for its distribution center in Anderson, S.C., which opened in 2007. The Anderson and Windsor facilities are now the models for every future Walgreens DC.

The company’s goal is to fill 10% of its distribution center production jobs with people with disabilities, and Walgreens is more than halfway there.

“For many, this is their first full-time job,” said Lewis. “For a parent to finally see their son or daughter experience what it’s like to hold a job, be responsible and actually look forward can fulfill a lifelong dream.”

Walgreens president and chief executive officer Greg Wasson said that for all the center’s efficiencies and technological advances, the company was most proud of the facility’s workforce.

In February the Department of Labor’s first-ever report on unemployment among disabled job seekers revealed rates nearly double those of the typical population.