(Originally published in the Times Ledger newspaper here on August 19,2018)
By Naeisha Rose
Alphapointe, one of the largest employers of the legally blind, is less than one month away from completing a move of its headquarters to Richmond Hill from Brooklyn.
The new home of the facility is at 87-46 123 St. and 50 of the company’s 180 employees have already started working at their new digs since December 2017, according to President and CEO Reinhard Mabry.
“We have been in the midst of renovations for the last year, and we are coming to the end where will be able to move into the building fully,” said Mabry. “Everyone else will be moving in September and that remains on schedule.”
The upgrades for the new property make it easier for the blind employees to move around the facility than at the Brooklyn headquarters.
“In Brooklyn the employees navigated the building using a network of connected ropes hung from the ceiling, similar to ropes a miner would use in a mine shaft,” said Mabry. “That is outdated and we really wanted to help our employees with orientation and mobility skills, which would be effective at any environment or somewhere else.”
Employees from the warehousing operations for finished goods and its mop department now are at the facility, according to Mabry.
“Plastics, sewing, brooms and brushes, assembly, needlecraft, our call center and our administrative staff will be moving in stages to the new facility,” said Mabry.
After being priced out of the Brooklyn facility, Mabry and other company heads did not want to leave the Big Apple and decided to look to other boroughs to keep Alphapointe in New York City, eventually settling on the new facility in Richmond Hill. The location is affordable, features good transportation for its employees and welcomes locals.
“We identified this property in Queens, which was a block from the subway, on a good street and has access to highways nearby, and it’s ample in terms of space and has high ceilings,” said Mabry. “We are spending quite a bit to renovate it, but it had really good bones.”
The 138,000-square-foot facility still is undergoing $18 million in upgrades.
The new headquarters is one block away from the J train and around 30 percent of Alphapointe employees already live in Queens, including Yuet Yuen Chao, who has a retinal detachment and has worked as a packer and sealer and for the company’s needlecraft department for over 12 years. The Queens Village native was honored for his many years of service last year and will find new technology to simplify his movements at work in Richmond Hill.
Alphapointe installed a state-of-the-art GPS system called BlindSquare that lets its employees use an application on their smartphones to receive distance and directional prompts as they move about the facility.
“We also use a system of ramps and rails to help them safely navigate the space efficiently,” said the CEO. “We also use high contrast colors and different colors tones in the network of 19 buildings that are all linked together, like the size of a city block, and it’s like a labyrinth in some respects.”
The buildings are interlocked and have guide rails and high contrast floors, so that a person with weak vision can discern one room from another.
During the renovations, the company received two new major orders from the Army and the U.S. Navy, according to the CEO.
In the spring, the U.S. Navy ordered 5,000 fitness pants and the Army ordered 100,000 of Alphapointe’s Tactical Mechanical Tourniquets, which will enable the enterprise to hire more employees later this year.
“This is happening at an exciting time,” said Mabry. “The neighborhood has been really good to us and we made a lot of new friends in the neighborhood who have been welcoming to our employees and our enterprise. We want to be good neighbors, too.”
Reach reporter Naeisha Rose by e-mail at nrose