Badger Mining Debuts at the Top

By Terence F. Shea Jul 1, 2006

HR Magazine, July 2006 #1 Small Company on the 2006 Best Places to Work List

The teamwork, the safety training, the profit sharing, the family-centeredness that employees describe so appreciatively— those are just some of the pluses that set Badger Mining Corp. apart.

The company, headquartered in remote Berlin, Wis., is this year’s top ranked small employer in the United States, as determined by the San Francisco-based Great Place to Work® Institute.

Badger Mining, family-owned and privately held, produces a million and a half tons of specialized sand each year for industrial uses, including oil and gas extraction. Of its 180 employees -- called associates -- only about 30 are in Berlin; the rest are in plants as far as 140 miles away.

The distances aren’t isolating, though. The culture of open communication reaches everywhere, and it’s “pretty amazing,” says Bob Kirst, manager of the trucking division, which ships sand to Midwest foundries. For example, he says, if you want to discuss a high-level corporate decision, “you can actually talk to the person who made the decision.”

Dan Valiquette, with the company since 1979 and manager of the Taylor plant, says he and top executives can talk about engineering and mine operations as easily as hunting and fishing. Accessibility to top leaders certainly promotes such communication, and Brian Stenberg, a 25-year veteran who runs the crusher/screening process at Taylor, says the owners have come to the plant on Sundays to visit with workers.

Even when communication discloses opposing viewpoints, the environment remains “very respectful,” says Andrea Sommer, who does final testing on the quality of the sand. That respect extends to employees’ use of time as well. Employees say managers never convey a time-clock consciousness when workers leave early to care for a sick child or attend a school function.

Kim Hunter, who does truck drivers’ paperwork, says the company is so considerate of employees’ needs that no one is inclined to “abuse the flexibility.” Sharyl Crump, assistant to CEO Michael Hess and other company officials, says staff members are “wonderful people,” and that some of her colleagues are among her best friends. They also are supportive: She recounts how four years ago both the president and CEO served as her “buddies” -- her support persons -- during chemotherapy.

Hess, a member of one of the owning families who was named CEO last year, says the value the company places on employees is reflected in a variety of ways, including the profit-sharing arrangement: All employees receive equal sums -- not proportionate amounts based on salary or rank—because all “put a lot of effort into making [the company] profitable,” he says.

The company rewards employees’ efforts in other ways as well. Expecting that employees could “spend their career here,” says Training and Staffing Associate Mellisa Stafford, it tries to ensure that they enter retirement with healthful habits and a secure financial foundation. For example, the comprehensive wellness program offers a variety of health screenings to the company’s largely outdoor workforce, including one for skin cancer, says Benefits Associate Barbara Swanson, SPHR.

Further, employees are not charged any premiums for standard health coverage or basic long-term-care coverage. Employees whose spouses decline health coverage receive the amount the company saves -- about $8,000, says Beth Nighbor, SPHR, vice president of human resources.

And in addition to matching employees’ 401(k) contributions up to 3 percent of salary, the company offers each individual $200 worth of professional financial advice per year.

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