Second Chance Employer Profile

Caudill Seed Co.

Caudill Seed Co.

Louisville, Ky-headquartered Caudill Seed Co. has been giving people a second chance since its founding in 1947. The privately-owned, family-operated business is a diversified agricultural production company. It specializes in seeds that include turf, cover crop and vegetables seeds, as well as fertilizer and erosion control supplies.

In addition to the headquarters in Louisville, Caudill has a distribution center in Morehead, Ky., and a plant in Winchester, Ky., that manufactures fertilizers and nutrients for the agricultural industry. The company’s customers include wholesalers, retailers, homeowners, landscape designers, farm dealers, hydraulic seeding professionals and professional sports turf managers across the U.S. It has a total of about 170 employees. The most common job titles are warehouse worker, truck driver, forklift driver and supervisor.

The company’s Louisville headquarters is located in one of the most depressed parts in the state, and it pulls employees from the surrounding area. They can ride their bikes or a bus to work, making transportation for the most part a nonexistent problem.

Second chance hiring practices 

Hiring second chance employees is part of Caudill Seed Co.’s DNA.

“My father never paid attention to whether people had been in jail.  In order to do a background check in the 80s you had to hire a lawyer and go the courthouse, and it was very expensive,” says Dan Caudill, the company’s COO.

His father started hiring people who came out of local nonprofit programs — including Volunteers of America, The Healing Place, Dismas Charity, Talbott House, Our Father’s House, Wallace House and Beacon House – and  Caudill continues to do the same. Many of these people have addiction problems but also were formerly incarcerated. Today, about 28% of Caudill Seed Co.’s workforce has been previously incarcerated.

“Most of them are coming in unskilled working in the warehouse, earning (a starting wage of) $15 to $16 an hour,” he says. “I’ve got a supervisor in the seed division who came in from one of these facilities. His entire crew in the warehouse are second chance employers. Some have stayed with us for 16 or 17 years.”

Many former employees have moved on to other jobs in other places, and several have started their own businesses.

Today, Caudill Seed does do background checks but hires people, most of whom have nonviolent drug related charges, anyway. One challenge is making sure they stay off of drugs, and it relies on nonprofit organizations to deal with them if they don’t.

“We do a urinalysis program every three months. If they’re dirty we send them back to the program, and when they’re finished they can come back and work for us again,” Caudill says.

The company offers job related training.  “If someone comes in and is a floor sweeper and wants to move up, we can help him do that. We’ll get him a forklift training. Then they can train for a commercial driver’s license and drive a truck,” he says. Most of the company’s deliveries are within 200 miles.

One of the challenges of hiring people from this population, according to Caudill, is that they need a bit more time off than the average employee to report to their probation or parole office. But it’s well worth it.

“We want to take people who are a liability and turn them into an asset. People need an opportunity. I’ve traveled the world in agriculture, and I chuckle at the United States and how judgmental we are with people who have had a problem,” Caudill says.

“I’m a big believer in this. These employees tend be more loyal to the company and work a lot harder than the average person. They appreciate the opportunity you’ve given that other companies haven’t.”

And for Caudill it goes beyond the tax credits that companies can receive to a sense of social responsibility.

“The tax credits aren’t the main thing. To keep a guy in jail a year costs $45,000 per year. If we can keep them out they turn into great employees and tax paying citizens of this country, he says.

To learn more about Caudill Seed Co.