Business

How workers at Starkey are making buildings safer in earthquakes

Starkey clients James Rackley, left, and Joe Hull assemble extension bars on Monday for use in an expansion joint cover product manufactured by Balco in Wichita. The expansion joint cover is used in buildings and allow them to move in an earthquake instead of crumbling or collapsing. (April 30, 2018)
Starkey clients James Rackley, left, and Joe Hull assemble extension bars on Monday for use in an expansion joint cover product manufactured by Balco in Wichita. The expansion joint cover is used in buildings and allow them to move in an earthquake instead of crumbling or collapsing. (April 30, 2018) The Wichita Eagle

When an earthquake strikes, buildings constructed with an expansion joint cover move along with the ground, preventing them from crumbling and collapsing.

It's a product that Balco, a Wichita manufacturer of architectural and construction products, has enlisted the help of Starkey to help produce.

One of the services Starkey provides mentally disabled clients is employment through contract work from companies. Clients assemble a part of the Balco product that not only keeps buildings intact in earthquakes, but also helps them move in high winds and expand and contract with hot and cold temperatures.

"It allows the building to not be rigid and break down," Balco president Ronnie Leonard said. "It’s just a way to make buildings safer."

Starkey workers attach a rubber ball about the size of an M&M candy to the end of a metal bar called an extension bar.

Starkey's clients have assembled 10,000 of the bars since the nonprofit was awarded the work from Balco in February, said Joyce Moon, Starkey's director of employment services.

They're now working on a new order to assemble 2,000 bars, she said.

It's one of a number of different jobs Starkey clients could be doing every day for 50 local companies. They pack and ship products, assemble new member information packets for credit unions and clean aircraft parts.

"We try to make jobs available to everybody so they can improve their skills," Moon said. About 85 Starkey clients work in its employment program, including in jobs that are outside the Starkey campus at 4500 W. Maple.

The pay for Starkey clients varies, a spokeswoman said. For some contract work, clients are paid minimum wage.

"For other contracts, it is a pay rate called a 'commensurate wage,' based on a time study for that job done with people who have no disabilities (in order not to penalize someone for reduced productivity due to his/her disability)," Starkey spokeswoman Jaime Opat said in an e-mail. "It is different for every specific job."

Balco's Leonard said the extension bar was the first work her company sent to Starkey. It recently sent another job Starkey's way, this time assembling marketing kits that Balco representatives will use on sales calls.

"Obviously it’s a numbers deal," Leonard said. "If it costs us more (to outsource work) that’s a big consideration. If it’s something that can save us money or even if it’s break even, the upside is it allows us to help other members of the community.

"In that respect it becomes an easy decision."

Jerry Siebenmark: 316-268-6576, @jsiebenmark
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