Patty Hadl seals cargo straps into labeled, plastic bags about a thousand times a day - 1,039 just the other day, a personal record - and for that, she's playing a key role in the Kansas economy, national defense and even international relief efforts.
So says Jerry Moran, who knows a thing or two about such things.
"Thank you for doing good work," he told Hadl during a tour of Cottonwood Industries. "You all do great work."
Moran, a Republican U.S. representative from Hays, stopped by Cottonwood on Monday on his way back to Washington, D.C., where later this week he will vote on a defense appropriations bill.
The bill will end up addressing financing for thousands upon thousands of military programs, projects and endeavors, but among the most closely watched contracts for the folks at Cottonwood will be money for the Defense Logistics Agency.
Through that agency, Cottonwood is about to the enter the fifth year of a five-year contract that is paying the Lawrence operation up to $50 million during the life of the contract - a pact to provide cargo tie-down straps for the military.
The straps - Cottonwood delivered 500,000 last year - are used to secure boxes of food, stacks of munitions, pallets of equipment and dozens of other items for U.S. forces worldwide.
And with Kinedyne Corp. in the East Hills Business Park providing parts for the straps, the money serves as a source of revenue for the area and a significant source of pride for Cottonwood employees. Up to 40 Cottonwood employees work the lines, while managing their own developmental disabilities.
Moran, who decided to visit Cottonwood after hearing about the operation during a recent visit to Washington from leaders of the Lawrence City Commission and Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, came away impressed.
The straps are the only ones of their kind made for the military, he learned. Cottonwood also serves as a subcontractor for Kinedyne, which makes a different type of strap for use on military Humvees.
"It's very important - to the individuals who work here, and very important to the Kansas economy," Moran said.
JR Condra, director of Cottonwood Industries, said that the military contracts were only part of the operation's overall workload. Employees - 130 in all on site - also package coupons and pet-oriented flying discs for PetSmart, and shrink-wrap plastic bowls for the Lawrence operation of Berry Plastics.
While the military contracts are granted through a system that sets aside a certain percentage of work for the National Industries for the Severely Handicapped program, the private-sector work is driven by simple dollars and cents.
"Most of the decision-making is based on what our folks can do," Condra told Moran, explaining that tax incentives or other such benefits play little to no role in much of Cottonwood's bids.
Moran spent much of his brief tour meeting with employees, observing them as they went about their daily tasks. He even took a turn at moving a high-strength strap down the line, from the sewing room to the packaging area and on its way to heading out the door - destined for an Air Force base and eventual use by troops on duty.
Hadl welcomed the assistance, but didn't need it. She barely skipped a beat as the congressman gave the Cottonwood employee a break for a few moments, and later wondered whether Moran could do anything to help preserve Lawrence's public transit system, the T.
She'll look forward to him working on Cottonwood's behalf in Washington, and perhaps thinking of the hard work that she and her co-workers put in each day.
"It's fantastic," she said of meeting Moran, before getting back to sealing another strap for shipping. And then another.