MARQUETTE- Forty years ago an idea was generated that would give those with mental and physical disabilities a place to gather and build skills. This idea initiated Lakestate Industries in Escanaba, and after 40 years a second branch is now open in Marquette.

The mission statement of Lakestate Industries states: “Dedicated to helping people recognize and maximize their abilities, overcome barriers, and support them in reaching their highest level of employment and community inclusion.”

The program currently has 200 clients in Escanaba and 50 in Marquette. Since its humble beginnings, the Escanaba branch has expanded its budget to $3.5 million. The goal is to reach that or more in the new Marquette office that opened this past July.

The program has benefited numerous individuals and families over four decades. One parent of two adult disabled children stated that the program was a game-changer in their lives.

“This program made such a difference in the quality of my daughter’s life it gives her a reason to get up each morning,” said Theresa Asher of Marquette.

Asher’s 32-year-old daughter works in the Escanaba branch of Lakestate Industries, while her 41-year-old son participates in the Marquette program.

At both locations, clients learn how to build furniture, make fire-starters, which are toilet paper rolls stuffed with shredded paper and dipped in wax, and also work in lawn care and office cleaning. They also shred paper and stuff envelopes. Clients can try an array of different tasks and each individual must go through an assessment before they start. For the first month data is collected and clients are observed to see what job will be the best fit. The staff strive to balance what a client is good at with what they enjoy doing.

“They (clients) are so proud of the work they do and they receive a paycheck It means a lot to them,” said Cheryl Ohman, director of the Escanaba office.

Ultimately, Lakestate Industries is a stepping stone program that strives to get people jobs in the community. For some though, community employment is not an option due to the severity of their disabilities. For these individuals, Lakestate Industries is always there for them.

The program works with Pathways Community Mental Health in Marquette, an organization that strives for the same goals as Lakestate Industries and refers all of their clients.

In the Escanaba office there is a staff total of 40 and in Marquette, a staff of six. These staff members teach all of the skills that clients learn as part of a form of vocational training.

Members of the two locations, as well as parents of the clients are all seeking the same thing: community inclusion.

“Once the Marquette office gets going and people get familiar with the program it will have a chance to grow,” Asher said. “I have seen so much change in our society over the past 40 years toward disabled people. They are so capable and they can do a lot of things I can’t over-emphasize the importance of community involvement.”

To get to know the community better, the Marquette Lakestate Industries office ?will hold an open house Wednesday from 1 to 6 p.m. at 2372 U.S. 41 West, Marquette (formerly used as the Marquette Activity Center). During that time, community members can stop by, meet the clients and learn about what the program does. For more information about Lakestate Industries, visit

Abbey Hauswirth can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 240.