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Noah Patton, left, and Kirk Jacobson worked earlier this year at MDI's northeast Minneapolis plant, which has grown from 80 to 120 employees. Photo: MDI

MDI, the light manufacturer that employs a workforce of nearly 50% people with disabilities, Medtronic and Special Olympics of Minnesota have launched the "Unified Work Coalition"

The purpose of the organization, announced this month and which is "National Disability Employment Awareness Month," is to advance employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

"People with disabilities are continually left out of the diversity and inclusion conversation in the business community, and we aim to change that," MDI CEO Peter McDermott said. "We know that our differences make us stronger. But it takes inclusion to make them matter. The formation of the Unified Work Coalition brings us one step closer to realizing true inclusion."

In Minnesota, people with disabilities are nearly three times more likely to be unemployed than the general population among people ages 18 to 64, according to a 2017 report from the Minnesota State Demographic Center.

MDI, a nonprofit business that makes corrugated and custom-plastic packaging products, is in the vanguard of a movement to recognize the important workplace contributions of people with disabilities and highlight the opportunity for industry to hire more of them, particularly at a time of worker shortages.

Here's a column I wrote in February:

The coalition includes 3M, Andersen Windows and Doors, Arc Minnesota, DPI Staffing and Opportunity Partners. They will work on sustainable employment models based on experience and assist businesses with hiring and support. Employees with disabilities tend to be dedicated workers, MDI's experience shows.

Minneapolis-based MDI this year expanded its Northeast facility and grew it from 80 to 120 people. Over the past couple of years, it has invested nearly $10 million to upgrade and expand plants, including in Hibbing, Grand Rapids and Cohasset.

MDI employs more than 500. Plant worker are paid at least minimum wage, and wages can rise to $15 an hour.