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Local firms say good benefits attract, retain employees

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by Maria G. Hoover

SBJ Staff

In order to recruit and retain good employees, companies in the Ozarks are offering more than just competitive wages.

Dan Ruggeri, partner at Employee Benefits Design LLC, said the reason employer-provided benefits are becoming more popular is because more large companies are moving into the area. He said most larger companies, old or new, tend to offer benefits such as a retirement plan.

"Springfield has a lot of smaller employers, and we have to figure out a way that those smaller employers can offer retirement plans similar to to the 401(k)," he said. Ruggeri said in addition to retirement plans, life, health and dental plans are the most common benefits employers are asked for by their employees. He added, though, that other types are increasing in popularity.

"Certainly, the flex-spending accounts are becoming very popular with even medium-sized employers," Ruggeri said. "Disability coverage, both long- and short-term, as well as non-qualified retirement plans for key executives are also becoming more popular."

Kraft Foods is an example of a company that offers employees a wide range of benefit options. Cathy Pernu, communications manager for Kraft, said the company provides employees immediate eligibility for dental and health insurance.

"Employees do pay a portion of the cost for their medical and dental plans but the company also pays a portion, and there's definitely an advantage for them to have coverage for the company," Pernu said.

She said Kraft also contributes to employees' spending accounts for health care and dependent care costs. Pernu said the company contributes 25 cents for every dollar employees set aside for health care, and for dependent care, the company contributes 10 cents per dollar set aside. Contributions are made by the company to both types of accounts on a pre-tax basis.

She added that Kraft pays for life insurance on every employee, which is worth twice the amount of each employee's individual salary. The company has a group legal plan that provides employees with services for real estate issues, wills and access to a legal hotline, all free of charge.

Kraft offers employees credit union availability, and assistance in dealing with personal problems that affect health, well-being and the employee's ability to work. Pernu said there is also a tuition reimbursement program for classes that are related to an employee's current job and have been approved by the company.

Pernu said Kraft employees also have access to group rates on auto, homeowners and long-term care insurance. She said most of these benefits are available for Kraft employees nationwide.

However, she added, the company's health-club reimbursement is only available in Springfield. "For Kraft Springfield employees, if they attend a health club 26 times per quarter, they can get reimbursed for part of the cost," she said.

Pernu said there are many reasons Kraft does so much for employees. "To become the undisputed leader in the food industry, we must be focused on our work, free to innovate and passionate about what we do," she said. "It's not easy to give our all at work and still fulfill responsibilities in other areas. Most of us desire full lives outside work as well. The challenge is to fit it all in while continuing to feel satisfied with both work and our personal lives. As a company, we're committed to helping our employees deal with that challenge."

Springfield ReManufacturing Corp., a company with nearly 850 employees in southwest Missouri and 12 locations in Springfield, also offers various employee incentives. Chris Maples, employee relations manager for SRC's Heavy Duty Division, said benefits and incentive programs vary between different locations, and also between employees who are salaried or paid by the hour. But he said overall, the benefits are good.

At the Heavy Duty Division, Maples said, SRC pays insurance costs for employees and their dependents. There is also a company-matched 401(k) retirement plan and an employee stock ownership program.

Also, "We have a quarterly bonus program based on the company's profit and performance, depending on whether we attain goals we set for ourselves," he said.

Maples added that SRC employees have free use of an on-site fitness center, and the company also provides some coverage for dental costs and prescription drugs. He said SRC also has a tuition reimbursement program, but unlike the one at Kraft, it isn't just for classes related to an employee's current job.

"Tuition reimbursement can be for classes related to a current job or future position," he said.

-"We wouldn't pay for someone to become an airplane pilot, but if someone was a janitor and wanted to become a manager, we would pay for the classes," Maples said.

Maples said one reason SRC offers incentive benefits to employees is because of the low local unemployment rate. He said that means SRC has to compete with other companies for employees, so SRC tries to beat others' benefits and compensation packages. But that's not the main reason SRC offers things like insurance and tuition reimbursement, he added.

"We operate under the philosophy 'keep people as long as possible.' We put a lot of training into people, and we're more productive if we have educated and trained people working in production," Maples said. "It's not profitable for SRC to have high employee turnover."

He added that SRC is following a nationwide trend, moving toward a more complex benefits program that allows employees more freedom. [[In-content Ad]]

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