2018 Employer of Choice

Human resource representatives Cheryl Fisher, left, and Mikayla Halone stand next to CEO Jason Williams at the front desk of Blackfoot Communications in Missoula, which won the Employer of Choice award given by Missoula Job Service Employers' Council on Thursday. Not pictured: Laura Marshall, vice president of corporate administration.

At Blackfoot Communications in Missoula, employees get 14 holidays per year on top of their paid vacation and sick leave. They also get a pension when they retire, a benefit that has mostly gone the way of the dinosaur in the private business sector in America.

Those are just a few of the reasons that Blackfoot was recognized this week as one of three Missoula 2018 Employers of Choice by the Missoula Job Service Employers' Council.

Paradise Dental Technologies, a dental instrument manufacturing company and Alter Enterprise, a computer network solution provider, also were recognized at a ceremony on Wednesday at the Holiday Inn Parkside.

According to Chery Sabol, a workforce consultant at the Missoula Job Service, the awards are handed out to three local businesses every year based on benefits offered to employees, leadership, workplace culture, employee development, community involvement and other criteria that make them great workplaces.

“Awards are given to small, mid-size, and large employers who provide ways for workers to grow and be heard, and sometimes innovative ways of rewarding or inspiring them,” she said.

Blackfoot has been around since 1954, and the company has 185 total employees, with about 150 at its headquarters in Missoula. The firm pays 85 percent of the premium for medical, vision and dental insurance and 85 percent of monthly premiums for many retirees, depending on their years of service. There’s a flex savings account, long-term disability insurance and wellness incentives.

According to Mikayla Halone, the human resources representative for the company, new employees are assigned a mentor to help them become familiar with the company, and have breakfast with the executive team. A new centralized forum allows employees to submit questions and suggestions, and a company intranet serves as a kind of company newspaper with information on the company and its activities.

“We believe company culture is how we will attract, engage, and retain stellar employees,” she said.

Other benefits include an employee assistance program, tuition reimbursement, telecommuting options, flexible work schedules, health screenings, gym discounts and an emphasis on work/life balance.

“It’s a long-term commitment that we have to our employees,” said CEO Jason Williams. “We’re looking out for the best interests of not only our owners but also our employees, so we want to make sure we pay them a good wage and offer them great benefits so they can have great lives. Salaries are definitely going up.”

With a relatively low unemployment rate and a robust economy, many employers are having difficulty attracting talented workers.

“Getting folks to relocate from Wyoming and Idaho has been really difficult because of the price of housing,” Williams said. “But our benefits are really attractive. We’re one of the few companies that still offers an old-school pension plan in addition to the 401(k). Just this morning we celebrated one of our guy’s 40th year with the company. He’s not only had a great career but he’s going to be well taken care of when he retires because of our pension plan and 401(k). It’s really rare.”

The mid-sized company award went to Paradise Dental Technologies, a firm that has about 56 employees who produce ergonomically designed dental instruments for both clinicians and patients. According to HR manager Austin Hobza, PDT offers generous paid time off, profit sharing, a 401(k) plan and an attendance policy managed on a case-by-case basis. There are also outdoor tournaments with cash prizes, and catered holiday parties.

The small Employer of Choice award went to Alter Enterprise, which provides computer services and upgrades computer networks. The company offers bonuses for meeting goals and making referrals, and employees engage in community activities like building parade floats and donating time to nonprofits.

“AE goes above and beyond to make their culture an engaging, caring one focused on continuous improvement and professional development of each individual,” said Libby Brunell of Cascadia Business Development. She nominated Alter Enterprise as an Employer of Choice, saying the business has created a tight-knit, trusting and supportive team.

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