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SHEFFIELD — Sukup Manufacturing Co. has a saying: “Giving back is ‘ingrained’ at Sukup.”

The company is not only a leading manufacturer of grain bins, it is known for treating employees as valued partners.

Emily Schmitt, general counsel at the company and a third-generation Sukup family member, said, “We’re known for our high-touch family culture. We think about, ‘What would other family members provide for you?’ It goes beyond job retention, to caring about individuals and families. It’s going the extra step beyond just work.”

The plant employs about 650 people. Schmitt’s grandfather Eugene started the company in the 1960s, and now it is the largest family-owned manufacturer of grain bins in the world. Products also include steel buildings and grain handling equipment.

Schmitt said the unemployment rate is 2.3 percent in Franklin County. The family-centered culture and opportunities at Sukup apparently have helped it avoid the difficulties that other businesses face in attracting and retaining workers.

“People here know they’re being taken care of,” said Samantha Petersburg, human resources generalist, who has worked there five years. “This company cares about them and family 110 percent. We see that in longevity. We don’t spend a lot of dollars on recruitment. We call it ‘a family of choice’ here. We have lots of relations of employees working here. A lot of it is word of mouth.”

Schmitt pointed out, “Studies show that millennials will go to a company if their values and the company values align.”

With a history of philanthropy at Iowa State University and a regional office in Ames, Sukup keeps a close relationship with the engineering department and students.

Currently Sukup currently has 43 interns in engineering, quality control, legal services and manufacturing.

Petersburg said, “We try to do something every other week to keep interns together and create a bond.”

The business plans company-wide events throughout the year, including an annual birthday celebration for founder Eugene Sukup; a summer picnic for families; free frozen turkeys handed out by Sukup family members at Thanksgiving; and an elegant Christmas party.

“Twice a year, every Sukup employee is able to meet one on one with a Sukup family member,” Petersburg said. “They might discuss hobbies, their family, work. That is who Sukup is.”

Schmitt said eight members of the Sukup family are directly involved with the company. She began employment there in 2011, but remembers growing up around the plant.

Sukup Manufacturing goes beyond many local companies in taking care of employees.

“We’ve been fortunate enough to take employees who have been here 10 years and their spouses to Hawaii,” Schmitt said. “Last time we took 74 employees, so with spouses that was over 150 people. We take our dealers every two years, and every six years it’s for dealers and these 10-year employees. We’ve been doing this for over 25 years.”

But the biggest investment directly benefiting employees is the new health care clinic Sukup Manufacturing opened on site in April 2018.

“We were looking at health care costs,” Schmitt recalled. “With all the changes in health care, we’ve seen a cost increase of 40 percent in four years. We were also looking at the low number of people using preventative care and talking about how to encourage that. What amenities does the average employee want to have in a small town? If it was easier, would they take care of themselves better?”

They began examining already-existing company health-care clinics in Iowa, including Meredith Publishing Co. in Des Moines and Vermeer Corp. in Pella.

“The common denominator was that they were all family-owned companies,” Schmitt said.

Vermeer and Meredith shared benchmark information from their clinics to help Sukup in planning, such as basic investment numbers, number of visits, cost of care elsewhere, time off, number of sick days, and cost savings of preventative care visits.

Sukup and Mercy Medical Center North Iowa came to an agreement where Sukup provides the space and equipment and Mercy provides medical staff. The plant’s administration moved out of an auxiliary building on grounds to new central offices, so the old space was remodeled to create the clinic.

The new clinic includes four exam rooms, a complete laboratory and room for future growth. Mercy employee Amber Marzen, registered nurse, staffs the clinic Monday through Friday, and Nurse Practitioner Anna Clausen is on site every Tuesday.

“They are incredible,” Petersburg said. “Their relationship with our clinic is phenomenal, and they provide amazing care.”

The lab is a major part of the clinic, she explained, as the Mercy staff are able to run many tests required right on site. They also are able to accept outside orders, such as when an employee being treated by Mayo Clinic needs weekly blood tests done.

The clinic’s services are free to employees enrolled in the company’s health care plan, which, by the way, also is totally free to individual workers. Family health care plans are available for a small premium, and there is 100 percent dental coverage for employees.

Employees are able to just walk over and drop in at the clinic or make an appointment.

Schmitt said, “Under the Affordable Care Act, we’re required to charge employees not on our plan who visit our clinic, so we charge just $5.”

Petersburg estimated the clinic gets about eight to 10 visitors a day.

“We had 76 visits to the nurse in the first 15 days it was open and 21 nurse practitioner visits. It’s convenience of care.”

“The first day it was open, we were really excited to get it rolling,” Schmitt said. “Within two hours of opening, I was walking down the hall and a foreman called out to me, ‘This is great!’ He had clocked out of work, visited the clinic, and clocked back in within 20 minutes. Normally it might take someone at least an hour to drive up to Mason City and back for an appointment.

“We implemented biometric screenings, and we had two different employees come to Sam’s office and say, ‘This has saved my life.’ Even one of those would be enough to say it’s worth it.”

Petersburg and Schmitt are excited for possible future growth, such as the addition of tele-health connections for consultations over the internet.

“Tele-counseling is the next step we’re moving into through the Employee Assistance Program. There’s a huge mental health need here in North Iowa,” Petersburg said.

Schmitt added, “Employees are dealing with a lot of issues we can’t help with. We want to lessen hurdles so people take care of themselves.”

“Safety and the clinic are tangible manifestations of how we care,” Petersburg said. “We’re a family-oriented business that invests in employees, not just products.”

She believes the on-site clinic could work in a small company, as well.

“The ACA changed how hospitals get paid,” Schmitt explained. “It’s more about what are you proactively doing now for health. Along with employer initiatives, I think this is the future. We’re going to see a lot more employers investing in that.”

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