While Indiana’s unemployment rate stands relatively low, at 5.9 percent, the labor force participation rate is at 63.3 percent, exceeding the national average, according to the Indiana Department of Workforce Development. Without sufficient labor sector jobs to meet that demand, thousands of Hoosiers are still unemployed.
Some face roadblocks to attaining a job, such as homelessness, addiction, felony records, and insufficient education, training and transportation. A local business experiment is dedicated to combating these difficulties.
David Palmer founded Purposeful Design, a non-profit furniture manufacturing and design company, in 2013. Seven staff members are employed and work alongside skilled craftsmen volunteers.
Purposeful Design employs men who have faced difficulties in their pasts, but have proven their commitment to making a better life for themselves and their families.
One staff member, Sedrick Baker, started working at Purposeful Design this past January.
“I met David [Palmer] through a bible study in my neighborhood,” he said. “I was frustrated with the way my work style was going. I had felonies so it was hard for me to get and keep jobs once [employers] found out, so I had David pray for me.”
Palmer offered him a job as a finisher soon after. The men work three days per week, always starting and ending each shift in a huddle, reading Bible scripture and offering prayer.
“It’s not just work, but a Christian-based fellowship that we have here,” Baker said.
Purposeful Design currently has a five-product line consisting of a beverage cart, coffee table, Adirondack chair, accent table and picnic table. Staff and volunteers handcraft each piece out of Indiana hardwoods, with prices ranging from $225 to $395.
The company works alongside local industries and organizations with hopes of expanding its partnerships. MacBeath Hardwoods and men at Wheeler Mission’s substance abuse rehabilitation center in Brown County provide wood, and College Park Church donated the facility, which happens to be in the same neighborhood where many of the employees live.
Purposeful Design is a job creation program rather than simply job training.
“One thing I kept hearing from men is ‘I’m looking for a job, looking for a job, looking for a job,’” Palmer said. “The purpose of Purposeful Design is to impact men so they can make an impact. I dream personally that many homes in Indianapolis will some day have a piece of this furniture—not primarily for what it will do for my home, or your home, but for the good it will do for the men making the furniture and their families.”
“When I finish building something, I can say ‘I made that.’ You can’t do that with most things,” Purposeful Design employee John Groot said. “And I can take whatever I learn and teach others. I’m an expert on these Adirondack chairs.”
Purposeful Design hopes to employ dozens more in the future. The company focuses on building more than just furniture, but community, strong work ethic, leadership and respect.
“Seeing how I used to be on a daily basis to move myself forward, be a success, put the past behind me and be reborn—that’s all part of it,” Groot said.
“It’s the coolest thing walking around the floor and hearing ‘I love you, man’ from the workers,” Palmer said.