Nelbud Brings Working-Class Jobs to Englewood
At a time when blue-collar jobs are becoming increasingly scarce, growing bastions of industrial employment with expanding career opportunities are anomalies.
Nelbud Services Group, the most eminent provider of kitchen exhaust hood cleaning, fire protection, and grease-trapping services from the Midwest to the East Coast, stands out as a thriving company that is steadily creating well-paying jobs for people without post-secondary credentials. Headquartered just off of East Washington Street in Indianapolis, Nelbud employs over 250 people as cleaners, technicians, and service managers in 17 metropolitan areas. Due to the ambition and innovative mindset of its leadership, Nelbud is on strong financial footing, but that may not have been the case without the resources that it has been able to harness on the Near Eastside of Indianapolis through partners of the IndyEast Promise Zone.
Thirteen years ago, Michael Crafton began Team 360 Services out of a pickup truck with $800 to spare. Due to the generosity of a property manager in a neighborhood devoid of business activity and residents, Crafton was able to rent out a commercial space at a fraction of its market value, thus becoming able to turn a profit. Eventually, Crafton determined that he was ready to take the risks needed to expand his business and began to acquire other companies, invest in and implement cloud-based web platforms, and move to a larger space that would accommodate a larger staff and more equipment.
Crafton’s acquisition of Nelbud (the namesake of Team 360’s 2015 rebrand) roughly coincided with the outset of the dot com boom, making his adoption of cloud-based platforms an incisive move that enabled Nelbud’s business efforts to be coordinated in ways that many entrepreneurs were reluctant or unable to in the early aughts, giving Nelbud a competitive edge that contributed to its ability to flourish and secure a highly-coveted position among its competitors. Procuring a larger and more sophisticated commercial space became a final component of Nelbud’s growth strategy.
Crafton’s pursuit of a new space led him to Englewood Community Development Corporation after meeting Joe Bowling, the corporation’s co-director. During a discussion of Nelbud’s spatial needs, Bowling advised Crafton to consider locating at 51 Koweba Lane, a former industrial complex that struck Crafton because of its proximity to the homes of potential employees and capacity to shelter Nelbud’s temperature-sensitive equipment. In spite of the space’s severe dilapidation, Crafton was able to salvage it with significant support from a Community Economic Development (CED) grant leveraged by Englewood, whose application was strengthened by Promise Zone priority points. Eventually, the former industrial building was renovated into a state-of-the-art office, classroom, and equipment storage complex, which has been fully operational and key to the company’s growth for several years.
Typical Nelbud truck, which is housed indoors due to temperature sensitivity
Although Nelbud’s Indianapolis headquarters are relatively secluded from the bustle of Washington Street, the company has good relationships with its neighboring households, businesses, and nonprofits, providing workforce training and employment to many residents of Near Eastside neighborhoods, partnering with local organizations to employ formerly incarcerated people, and working with Englewood to identify other opportunities to give back to the community. Regionally, Nelbud maintains ties to EmployIndy, the Veterans Services branch of Indiana’s Department of Workforce Development, and several public high schools, through which it promotes its employment opportunities. Since no accredited vocational programs teach to the specific skillset required of Nelbud employees, Crafton makes a point of promoting the unique opportunities for training and employment provided at Nelbud’s Indianapolis location and encouraging people without college or vocational training to pursue them.
All Nelbud employees are trained at the company’s Indianapolis headquarters in the classroom pictured above.
“Nelbud has been an exceptional success for rehabilitating a vacant and formerly-contaminated property, strengthening the economic vitality of the East Washington Street corridor by bringing in revenue and providing services to local businesses, and lifting Near Eastside neighbors out of poverty by going above and beyond to provide living-wage employment, workforce experience, and life skills training,” said Bowling when asked how Nelbud supports the goals of Englewood and the IndyEast Promise Zone.
Co-Director Joe Bowling (far right) and Great Places Coordinator Abigail Overton (center) of Englewood Community Development Corporation speaking with Nelbud staff
Employment with Nelbud is not ideal for everyone, as it routinely involves committing to night shifts that sometimes coincide with unfavorable weather conditions, but individuals who are willing to work as cleaners and technicians in spite of those challenges receive generous wage and benefit packages in return. As Nelbud continues to grow, its leaders are hoping to reduce employee turnover and improve the company’s emphasis on interpersonal skills, the latter of which may come about through connections to Near Eastside institutions that have established job readiness programs at little to no cost for participants. As neglected sites such as Sherman Park become assets for neighborhood revitalization, Nelbud, like the Circle City Industrial Complex, is well-positioned to serve as a paradigm for industrial site reuse on Indianapolis’ Near Eastside.
The Nelbud service team at the company’s ribbon-cutting ceremony