Building bridges is a metaphor that Margo Walsh applies liberally.

MaineWorks, the company Walsh started in 2010, hires recently released felons, immigrants and others who face hurdles in getting jobs. Other companies – primarily in construction – hire MaineWorks employees for projects, like the reconstruction job that CPM Constructors of Freeport is tackling on the Maine Turnpike in Falmouth.

And Walsh is hoping to have MaineWorks gain an even stronger hold in the construction industry and create more bridges: for her employees from jail to work, for her company to contractors and for a group of people who have a hard time reconnecting to broader society.

“This population is stuck, perpetually stuck,” she said.

Walsh’s inspiration came from a speech given in Portland in 2010 by attorney F. Lee Bailey, who has long urged society to give felons a second chance.

“When they get done with paying that debt to society, they shouldn’t have to perpetually pay that debt to society,” Walsh said.


Since starting the business, she has expanded the group she seeks to help to include “new Americans,” immigrants who can legally work as they seek citizenship, but often find employers are unwilling to take them on.

Walsh has a group of contractors who have found her company’s workers valuable. Since they are Walsh’s employees – she pays her workers about $15-$20 an hour, and her clients pay her company $18 to $25 an hour – Walsh takes on most of the headaches. MaineWorks pays the payroll taxes, the workers’ compensation insurance and the unemployment taxes.

That makes the workers attractive to companies like family-owned CPM Constructors.

Tim Ouellette, the company’s chief financial officer, said he uses MaineWorks employees because it means the company doesn’t have to lay off workers when work slows in the winter.

There have been a few problems, like a worker not showing up on time, Ouellette said, but no more so than with their own employees and “nothing that has deterred us.”

Ouellette, who was recently elected president of Associated General Contractors of Maine, said a theme of the trade group’s annual meeting next week will be improving Maine’s workforce. MaineWorks, he said, helps improve and expand the workforce with workers who can be trained for more skilled positions as they work.


Ouellette said a CPM Constructors’ employee who started out with MaineWorks is being trained this week to become a crane operator, one of the industry’s critical jobs.

Ouellette has hired other MaineWorks employees, like George Sullivan, who worked for MaineWorks for two months while on probation and was hired by CPM three years ago.

Sullivan was in a halfway house when Walsh hired him. His attempts to find work elsewhere had failed.

“It’s hard every day, hearing there’s another job you don’t qualify for,” Sullivan said, but since CPM Constructors took him on full time, he’s been able to buy a house.

“Margo’s a saint,” he said of Walsh.

Other CPM Constructors’ employees said the workers that come from MaineWorks are hard-working. Joanna Vining, a CPM Constructors carpenter, said she and her husband hired one of the workers to help them build a room around their hot tub a couple of years ago.


“They’re some good people in need of a second chance,” she said.

Walsh said the idea for her business took hold when she volunteered at the Cumberland County Jail providing substance-abuse recovery services. She was attracted to working at the jail because the people there offer the greatest opportunity for change. That experience and Bailey’s call to give felons second chances, she said, led directly to her company, originally called Maine Day Labor Inc.

Her passion for the company is matched by her head for business. Revenue has grown from $240,000 her first year in business to $1.5 million in 2014, Walsh said. The number of people she employs also has risen, from an average of 15 to 40.

The firm’s commitment is obvious in other ways, too.

MaineWorks has a program called WorkWell for employees needing various kinds of help – from getting a driver’s license to dealing with mental or physical health issues, child care, housing and financial planning, she said.

When Walsh stopped by the Maine Turnpike project Wednesday there were plenty of hugs from current MaineWorks employees as well as CPM Constructors’ workers who had started out with Walsh’s company.

Then they went back to the job: building a bridge – literally this time.

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