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Plant will employ 50 by spring

Lighthouse for the Blind Inc. will open a Spokane manufacturing plant this spring and plans to employ 50 people in making communication boards for the federal government and a Chicago office-supply company.

Lighthouse President Kirk Adams will announce his Seattle-based company’s expansion at a Greater Spokane Incorporated breakfast Friday, then close on the purchase of a former Tidyman’s grocery store later in the day. The company will have $4 million invested in plant and equipment when production starts in May or June, he said Tuesday.

Adams said the Lighthouse plant in Seattle employs 315, 187 of them blind. The workers make aircraft parts for Boeing Co., canteens for the military, communication boards – whiteboards, chalkboards, corkboards – paper goods and mops. The Triumph Composite Systems plant on the West Plains is a customer, he said.

Workers use precision machining and injection-molding equipment modified for the sight-impaired. Sales exceed $37 million a year.

Adams said Lighthouse has been considering expansion since September 2006, when the company began exploring a partnership with ACCO Brands Corp., a $2 billion seller of office supplies such as Swingline staplers. The companies have agreed to co-brand a line of message boards.

Lighthouse also has a new contract with the U.S. General Services Administration that puts the company on a list of suppliers to federal government agencies.

To fulfill those contracts, Adams said, Lighthouse will need more space. The vacant, 52,000-square-foot Tidyman’s at 6505 N. Addison St. not only was a less expensive location than others Lighthouse considered, but is convenient to shopping and public transportation, he said.

Spokane also has a pool of sight-impaired workers and will be an attractive city for those willing to relocate, he said.

“We wanted to create job opportunities for blind people in other parts of the state,” said Adams, who recently became the first blind president of Lighthouse in its 90-year history. He said 40 of the Spokane workers will be blind.

Noting the assistance provided by Greater Spokane and local officials, he said: “We plan on being part of the Spokane community in perpetuity.”