It’s always a pleasure to highlight companies that have found ways to confront the challenges of attracting and retaining quality employees. As we celebrate Veterans Day this week, it’s especially fitting to share the story of Winegar, Inc., featured in the next issue of Enterprise Minnesota magazine®, out on November 9.
A Waseca-based manufacturer that provides machining services to OEMs, Winegar has tapped into uniquely desirable employees: US veterans. Former service members come from a world of discipline and respect for authority, and they possess an admirable work ethic, says Craig Ryan, Winegar’s president. Ryan first heard about a program that helps manufacturers connect with veterans during an Enterprise Minnesota Peer Council meeting.
A Veterans Administration program gives veterans access to additional benefits, including equipment reimbursement and housing allowances. For employers, the up-front financial benefits are negligible. Ryan says they get $1,000 per year per employed veteran from the VA.
But what they don’t get in cash, employers get back in workers like Chris Thissen, a Marine veteran who was severely wounded in an ambush of rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) while serving in Iraq. He still suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Sitting at his Winegar workstation with a 120-pound pit bull/mastiff named Pete at his side, Thissen shared the details of what happened to him in Iraq with our writer. As Thissen’s voice quickened and wavered, Pete’s ears perked up. A service dog trained to help Thissen get through emotionally difficult moments, Pete knows when to step in and give Thissen the support he needs.
“When I have a PTSD episode, I shut down. I am non- aggressive, but I know very well that if I lose it, really bad things can happen,” Thissen says. “I’ve gotten to the point where I shut down and Pete comes up and will get up in my face. He gets me out of the back of my head into the front of my head.”
Thissen has been deemed 100% disabled; he wouldn’t have to work if he didn’t want to. But for a Marine with a strong work ethic, not working wasn’t an option. Even at work he needs the assistance Pete provides, though.
By employing Thissen, Winegar also employs Pete. That requires taking steps to keep Pete safe, so even while he’s resting on his mat a few feet from Thissen’s workstation, the dog wears protective goggles and earmuffs. Thissen’s workstation is also a bit secluded to minimize traffic, and it’s located near a door to the outside — Pete can’t use the men’s room after all.
Enterprise Minnesota Business Growth Consultant Abbey Hellickson admires how Winegar is helping veterans. “This is a really important program for all of our manufacturers to be aware of,” Hellickson says. “I think we have a population of people who we can tap into that would be good employees for anyone. I’m so impressed with Winegar’s alternative approach to helping people be successful in their environment.”
Read more about Winegar, Thissen, and Pete (including a picture!) in the next issue of Enterprise Minnesota magazine®.
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