Here’s a bit of trivia that Wade Larson likes to share about his employer, Wagstaff Inc.:
Some of the Spokane Valley manufacturer’s employees have 401(k) accounts valued at more than $1 million.
The healthy 401(k) balances speak both to workers’ longevity at the company – some have been contributing to their accounts for 30 years – and the owners’ goal of sharing profits with their 450 employees, said Larson, Wagstaff’s human resources director.
“We spend a lot of money to be a destination employer. It’s not cheap and it doesn’t happen by chance,” Larson said. But, “when people hear we have openings, there is no shortage of applicants.”
Wagstaff recently was named the 2018 Employer of the Year by the Association of Washington Business. The statewide award recognized the company’s efforts to recruit and retain employees through competitive wages and benefits, profit-sharing bonuses and perks like an on-site gym and personal finance sessions.
“Our goal is to make it a place where employees want to stay,” said Barbara Wagstaff Parkes, the company’s president.
Wagstaff’s reputation helps the company recruit workers in highly sought-after fields, such as engineering and skilled trades, Larson said.
Parkes represents the third generation of family ownership for Wagstaff, which began in 1946 as a machine shop. The company later switched to making aluminum casting equipment.
Aluminum producers use Wagstaff’s technology to transform the molten metal into solid shapes – rounds and slabs called “billets” and “ingots.” About 75 percent of the company’s sales are international.
Wagstaff has 375 workers in Spokane Valley, another manufacturing plant in Kentucky and other workers worldwide.
Parkes has held multiple jobs at Wagstaff since she started working in the drafting department during the late 1970s. “For a long time, I was the payroll goddess,” she said.
In November, Parkes made and served the chicken tortilla soup for the monthly company luncheon that keeps employees abreast of Wagstaff’s sales and shipments. Parkes knows many of the employees and their family members by name.
Chase Schmidt, a mechanical engineer, was hired by Wagstaff 3 1/2 years ago after graduating from Eastern Washington University.
“It was the job I hoped to end up with at the end of my career,” Schmidt said. “I was lucky enough to get hired out of school.”
Schmidt said he likes Wagstaff’s culture, which encourages employees to be successful both in their work and personal lives. The company’s “lunch and learns” feature speakers on personal finance and planning for retirement. Before the holidays, employees get free chair massages to help them manage the stress of the season. There’s also a company-sponsored family day at Silverwood Theme Park during the summer.
“For being such an international company, there’s a lot of personal attention,” said Chris Carvo, an account executive in the sales department. “They make you feel wanted.”
The family ownership drives the company’s culture, said Larson, the HR director.
“We could be a lot more profitable if all we cared about was the bottom line,” he said. Instead, Larson said the owners’ directive to him is “find reasonable ways to give more money back to employees.”
Keeping health insurance affordable for employees has been a recent push at Wagstaff. Promoting wellness programs helped the company save $2 million in health care costs over the past two years and resulted in a 25 percent drop in employees’ insurance premiums.
Workers can earn back the cost of their insurance deductible by engaging in wellness activities, such as not smoking and getting their cholesterol checked annually. They can also earn points toward Amazon gift cards by tracking their workouts in the company’s gym, where classes are offered by a visiting trainer.
Besides its focus on current employees, Wagstaff also invests in recruiting the next generation of manufacturing workers, Larson said. The company supports local programs that encourage students to consider a career in a skilled trade.
As schools have phased out automotive, woodworking, home economics and art classes, fewer students have experience making things, Larson said.
“We’ve spent the last 30 years telling people the trades are dirty,” he said, while neglecting to talk about job opportunities in those fields.
“If you earn a two-year degree as a machinist at community college, I will hire you at $40,000 per year,” Larson said.
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