RHINELANDER - People know Rhinelander for producing things like specialty papers at the Expera mill, food wrappers at Printpack, and sausage at Trig's smokehouse. But AirPro, an industrial fan manufacturer, helps make up part of the business scene. Now that company is taking a new approach to its employees.
"I've never been comfortable with the idea that I'm the owner, I'm in some separate category. To me, we're all in the same boat," said AirPro President Keith White.
To White, his employees at AirPro in Rhinelander are the backbone of what the company does.
"Every day that they're working, today, next year, next year, there's that clear tangible tie to that exit point," said White. "That what they did, had not only value for their immediate needs, but they were actually investing in their future."
The business started in 2002. It manufactures industrial-duty fans and blowers. Companies all over the world install equipment AirPro makes.
"You name it. Israel, Turkey, Egypt, Indonesia, India, China, Taiwan, but mostly it's North America," said White.
The business is always changing, which is what makes it the most interesting for White. But the most recent change came for AirPro's nearly 60 employees earlier in September when the company transferred 100 percent ownership to the people who help keep AirPro going.
"My biggest concern is the health long-term of the company and of the employees," said White. "The essence of what this is is a retirement plan, so that when it does come time for them to exit themselves and transition to the next phase of their own life, they're going to have a nest egg that's pretty significant."
Through an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP), employees now have an ownership stake in the company. It's a change that employees at AirPro call at benefit to their futures.
"This just gives us more of an impact. Everyone can just have a much greater sense that my contributions matter," said AirPro engineer and VP of Technology Marty Mathews.
"It's been really good, we've only been going in one direction since I started and it's a pretty good sign," said 10-year employee Ed Finney.
"We're in control of our future, really. It's up to us," said 12-year employee Todd Everson.
White calls AirPro more than just a fan manufacturer, and sees a great future ahead for AirPro down the road.
"So we're not in essence a welding shop and all of the things that you might see going on," said White.
"The essence of what we are is we have technology that people around the world need."