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Small Business Grows Green Manufacturing Jobs

All across America, GSA is seeing great examples of entrepreneurship and innovation, even though we’re facing some of the toughest economic times we’ve experienced since the Great Depression.  Seeing this occur in the manufacturing sector is especially exciting because maintaining our competitiveness in this area will help move our economy forward!

Yesterday, I had the privilege of seeing this first-hand at a company called Okabashi, a flip-flop manufacturer in Buford, Georgia that utilizes a manufacturing process that is virtually 100 percent  waste-free – closed loop recycling.  In addition to diverting thousands of flip-flops from landfills and shorelines, the company produces sustainable flip-flops that are 100 percent  recyclable and made of at least 25 percent  recycled materials.  Okabashi is also committed to reusing or recycling 100 percent  of its manufacturing waste, and  100,000 shoes are reground each year.  Additionally, the 2 percent  of Okabashi materials that cannot be reused for shoes is diverted to other companies to make industrial mats and roofing materials.

On top of its leadership in sustainability, Okabashi is committed to keeping its manufacturing and distribution functions right here in the United States.  As President Obama said in his remarks at Alcoa’s aerospace plant recently, “we have to make things right here in America.”  And Okabashi is doing just that.  In fact, Okabashi, a small business on Main Street, employs approximately 60 people and, depending on the season, their workforce can grow to more than 200 people. Not only are these jobs good middle class jobs, they’re also green jobs.  On top of that, Okabashi is exporting its shoes to 16 different countries, which, as the President has said time and time again, is critical to America achieving sustainable economic growth.

They’ve also undertaken efforts to leverage their supply chain to minimize the company’s impact on the environment, a goal that is close to our hearts at GSA, an agency that is committed to achieving a zero environmental footprint.  GSA is leveraging its buying power to do the same thing, especially with respect to meeting its obligations under the Sustainability Executive Order.

During my visit, my team and I toured the manufacturing operations and met with management and other employees.  We engaged in a productive conversation about how we can help small businesses create good middle class and green manufacturing jobs.   Personally, this experience hit close to home, because the founder fled Iran during the Revolution.  Even though he and his family lost everything, he tapped into that entrepreneurial spirit that made him successful before to start a small business in Georgia.  With hard work, he created a successful and innovative manufacturing company that has created many jobs in Georgia.   I happen to be the son of an Indian immigrant small business owner, so I fully appreciate the sacrifices that Okabashi’s founder made to realize the American Dream and contribute to the economic and social fabrics of America.

At GSA we are committed to assisting our customers with their real estate, procurement, fleet and other needs so they can focus on their core mission.  In order for us to do that, we need more green companies like Okabashi providing goods and services to our federal customers.  Not only will this ensure that we can help our customers meet their sustainability goals, it will also enable us to accomplish our mission to make government work better for the American people through our commitment to sustainability.

So to all the other small businesses out there, we will continue to have conversations with you about what we can do to harness your energy, talent and ideas – so that we can win the future by out-educating, out-innovating, and out-building our competitors.  It’s important to GSA because, as the business, real estate and fleet arms of the federal government, we need your business so that our customers will have the goods and services they need to keep our country safe, dispense justice, inspect mines, keep our environment clean, administer social security benefits, adjudicate claims, address poverty and perform other important duties that are appreciated by the American people.