Way up in Wakefield, a town of about 1,800 in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, they get a lot of snow. In fact, the area is known as Big Snow Country. Some people, like Mike Zacharias, call it God's Country.
Zacharias, president of Extreme Tool & Engineering Inc., says being in the boonies — at least the peninsula's boonies — actually plays to the company's advantage when it comes to hiring.
“What we really promote in our area … is our outdoors environment,” he said. “Beyond that, it's just a very safe place to live. People rarely lock their houses or cars. That's something that doesn't happen in many places in the world anymore. We don't have the problems [typical] of society. It's a good place to raise family, with clean air and water.”
The toolmaker and low-volume injection molder ranks No. 8 on Plastics News' Best Places to Work list for 2015, which is based, in large part, on employees' input.
Zacharias outlined his method of selecting employees who are a good fit for the company's culture. Extreme Tool uses the usual screening practices, such as checking backgrounds and references. Officials there have even been known to scout the Internet to see what might surface about a potential hire's character. But the ultimate indicator of whether a potential employee will be happy there is that person's love of the area.
“If you're not interested in the outdoors in some way, this is probably not the right place for you to live or the right company to work for,” Zacharias said. “I can change things within the walls of our building … but certainly living as remote as we are isn't for everybody.
“We used to look for people who fit the job. Now we focus on finding people who are right for the area.”
Four of the six employees who launched the company 17 years ago are still there. Zacharias estimates 25 percent to 30 percent of the staff has been there more than 10 years. Extreme Tool employs 75 full-time and six part-time workers.
The company tries to foster a sense of family both inside the plant and in the community, Zacharias said. It pays employees for their time spent participating in community service and volunteer work, especially with youth groups.
Extreme Tool recently teamed up with the local Lioness Club to provide area students with backpacks filled with school supplies. The company's employees donated more than $500 worth of supplies to the cause, and Extreme Tool matched the donation. Zacharias supplied extra incentive by donating two of his Green Bay Packers box seats to a raffle for employees who participated in the drive.
Extreme Tool sponsors many youth sports teams. The company also bought robots for the local 4-H group and several employees work with technical education students at local schools.
“It's an opportunity to teach people in the community about manufacturing in general, and about our company,” Zacharias said. The results benefit the company as well as the community.
The company offers profit sharing, a fund-matching retirement savings plan, tuition assistance, a formal mold-making apprenticeship program, leadership and personal-development training, fitness events.
“We don't face as much trouble with recruiting as some other companies do. Good people are never easy to find, but I'd say we're more successful at that than a lot of companies. We don't try to hire skilled help, hardly ever. We hire new grads, young talent that's trainable. … We groom our own employees.”