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Screen Printer That Employs Autistic People Poised for Growth

Remember Spectrum Designs? Last year, I visited the Port Washington, NY, business to learn about the challenges and triumphs of running a decorated-apparel shop devoted to training and employing individuals on the autism spectrum. (You can read the November 2015 feature story, watch a slideshow, or this video for more.)

Since April is Autism Awareness Month, it seemed like the perfect time to check in on Spectrum, and I’m so glad I did. Turns out, some pretty exciting things have been happening since my visit. Chief among them is a planned expansion to a 7,000-square-foot building on Main Street in Port Washington, according to Patrick Bardsley, president and cofounder of Spectrum Designs.

The new space is more than three times as large as Spectrum’s current production facility, and would allow the shop to add another automatic screen-printing press, several more embroidery machines and hire on about 50 more workers, Bardsley says. Currently, the shop employs 25 full- and part-time staffers, 75% of whom are on the autism spectrum. It also provides job training to 28 autistic teenagers. The nonprofit Spectrum Designs is in the middle of a capital campaign to raise $2 million to help fund the relocation.

In the meantime, the shop continues to thrive, bringing in about $900,000 in sales last year and projecting $1.1 million for 2016. Helping to meet that goal is a recent order of about 56,000 T-shirts from Autism Speaks. The national nonprofit named Spectrum the official vendor of its Autism Speaks Walks 2016 tees. “It’s a testament to the fact that social enterprises can compete on a national scale, and this puts Spectrum Designs firmly on the map,” Bardsley says.