From delivering COVID-19 supplies across the U.S. to operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the hard work of The Abilities Connection (TAC) Industries employees is supporting United States Air Force missions near and far.
This week, TAC will celebrate manufacturing their 1-millionth cargo net for U.S. Air Force cargo planes.
TAC Industries is an organization in Springfield that employs, connects and cares for adults with disabilities.
TAC began repairing cargo nets for the Air Force in 1984. Using a 26-point inspection process to locate damages in webbing and hardware, TAC employees are able to make repairs and refurbish most cargo nets to be used again.
“TAC has repaired more than 600,000 cargo nets for the U.S. Air Force,” says Jim Zahora, CEO of TAC. “It has saved the government over $39 million.”
Refurbishing the cargo nets was the main objective for employees at TAC until the early 2000s when a 4-Star general in charge of procurement of the cargo nets visited the location and saw the work being done.
“Sam Greenwood was chairman (of TAC) at the time,” Zahora says. “He told the general, ‘We repair the ones we can, but the ones we can’t repair, we would like to replace in order to keep your inventory whole.’ The general liked this.”
In 2003, TAC was asked to assist another supplier with making cargo nets. In 2005, TAC made its first bid for the Air Force cargo net contract and won. And the organization just signed a 5-year contract with the Air Force for the fourth time this past June.
Today – Thursday, Dec. 10 – TAC employees will manufacture their 1-millionth cargo net. The milestone will be celebrated with a virtual event at noon and include many special messages, including one from Ohio Senator Rob Portman.
“We are really excited,” Zahora says. “But the most important part of this celebration isn’t really about the physical cargo nets, though that is an achievement. The 1-million nets over the last 15 years have provided employment to over 500 people with disabilities. It gave them a chance to earn a paycheck and reinforce their sense of purpose with meaningful work and working for the military.”
The cargo nets – made from nylon – include two side pieces and a top piece; all three pieces are needed to secure items for transport on 7 ft by 9 ft aluminum pallets.
The nylon is received in rolls and cut to the length required for each component, Zahora says. TAC also assembles the straps and hardware. The company even developed a new and efficient sewing pattern as part of their improvement efforts.
“It’s a ‘zigzag’ stitch that also saves the government in funding,” he says.
TAC employees are currently making about 4,800 cargo nets per month but have in the past made up to 11,000 a month.
The cargo nets have been in transport to Iraq and Afghanistan and used to transport humanitarian aid all over the world, Zahora says.
“Our nets supported the National Science Foundation’s ‘Operation Deep Freeze’ in Antarctica,” he says. “They see hot and cold. Most recently the nets have helped transport COVID-19 supplies all over the country. We saw our nets on supplies of ventilators going to New York City.”
The employees at TAC are patriotic and enjoy the work they do for the U.S. Air Force, Zahora says.
“We are extremely proud,” Zahora says. “Our mission is to serve people with disabilities and create environments where they feel safe and included and where they can thrive. They can hopefully get a job in the community and gain the skills here while working on something like the cargo nets and earning a paycheck.”
The virtual celebration of the 1-millionth cargo net will also include a few surprises, Zahora says. The celebration can be viewed on The Abilities Connection Facebook page or by registering at: www.bit.ly/TACcelebration.