New year looks good to top employers

How did it go during 2011 for some of the largest employers in the greater Lovell area that have major effects on the local economy?

Based on information provided by four of them, it was a fine year and there are expectations for 2012 to be at least as good. Although it does not appear that there will be many new employees hired, there is a possibility of some hiring and it seems that there will be no situations of reductions-in-force.

North Big Horn Hospital District

CEO Rick Schroeder is well aware of the responsibilities linked to an annual payroll of more than $7 million and employing more people than any other organization in Big Horn County while providing significant medical aid to the population.

Referring to the more than 235 employees, he said, “We as a facility appreciate and respect the community for allowing us to care for them in their times of need. It’s a great responsibility and we feel that it is an honor to serve.”

During 2011 the district treated 1,835 patients in its emergency department and cared for 11,544 patients in the Big Horn Clinic. Additionally there were 528 CT scans, 1,740 X-rays, 408 digital mammograms, 216 ultrasounds, 108 cardiograms and 60 bone density studies. As well, the district provided 12,096 occupational, physical, respiratory, speech and nutrition therapy services. Additionally, a new ambulance was acquired last year.

Schroeder is pleased to announce a new physician, Dr. Deborah “Debbie” Brackett, who began her work with NBHHD on Tuesday, Jan. 3. “We’re excited about her,” said the CEO. “She is kind and compassionate and fills the bill to replace Dr. Derrick Gilbert, who left in September 2009.” Besides the addition of Brackett, a new nurse will be hired to work with her, Schroeder said.

He advised that some new services are in the works for the area. They include a community wellness program and a visiting nurse program. The latter, to be aimed at helping the homebound, still is undergoing an approval process. The wellness plan would provide seminars with guest speakers each month with a different focus for the public including nutrition, blood pressure, physical fitness, diabetes and prescriptions. Another idea is to offer training for first responders.

Overall, stated the CEO, “We want to be good neighbors. We would like to help people get healthy and stay healthy. So we look at ways to help improve health status before people get sick.” Having undergone a major weight loss recently through diet and exercise, he is highly aware of how easy it is to gain weight and how difficult to lose it and keep it off. “It involves a multifaceted approach,” he said, “and is among the education and aid we want to make available.”

Another plan in mind involves training with North Big Horn County Fire Protection District No. 1 to be ready for biohazard emergencies. The hospital emergency readiness team would be involved, and the effort would be coordinated with the care center.

Schroeder noted that the emergency department personnel and equipment recently received a high rating, good for three years as a receiving facility, from state hospital inspectors. Meanwhile, a move is under way toward electronic health records, as mandated. “We feel confident that we will meet a Feb. 1 start date,” he said, “as we hit the thresholds for 25 required criteria.”

Besides its medical and other support activities, NBHHD sponsored a number of special events, all aimed at educating the public on health matters. Some new equipment was purchased and the annual Christmas Share-a-Stocking program benefited more than 200 children.

“We love what we do for the community — it’s why we’re here,” said Schroeder.

CETCO (Colloid Environmental Technologies Co./American Colloid)

Last year the Lovell operation, which has two plants, hired approximately 12 new employees due to orders that were placed, as the operation produced and shipped millions of tons of clay in various forms to diverse customers, according to Steve Wilkerson, manufacturing executive.

And that involved 50 million to 65 million square feet of linear product out of the plant, plus other lines, he said. Current employment stands at more than 100 workers, he added. “Plus,” said Wilkerson, “the forecast for 2012 is excellent, so we could increase.”

He explained that 2009 “was a bad year,” but that the situation has improved greatly since then. And the new year looks bright, he indicated.

Western Sugar Co-op

The 2011 report is sweet, as harvesting the sugar beet crop was completed in November, said Randall Jobman, area agricultural manager. The Western Sugar Cooperative processing plant in Lovell went into high gear in late September and it’s anticipated that the annual campaign will wind up early in March, Jobman said.

Additionally, he noted that the crop averaged 28.9 tons per acre with 17.23 percent sugar content. “This is above average,” said the ag manager, “and is being considered as an excellent year.” Therefore, the overall picture looks great, he indicated.

The plant employs 50 full-time workers and some 67 part-timers from the Big Horn Basin, many of whom are rehired year after year, during each year’s processing campaign. “We expect no major changes in our business operations next year,” Jobman said, either in harvesting or processing. And it does not appear that there is a need for any major alterations to the facility or the equipment used.

The plant runs with three shifts for a 24/7 operation to slice approximately 3,000 tons of beets daily. The crop comes from at least 18,000 acres of sugar beets grown by farmers in areas including Lovell, Cowley, Byron, Powell, Otto, Cody and Burlington.

Bentonite Performance Minerals LLC (BPM)

“We had a great year in 2011,” stated Alan Snyder, Lovell plant manager. “We had no recordable or lost time incidents in 2011,” he said, explaining that, “BPM received the Wyoming governor’s safety award for 2011, Industrial Minerals Association-North America (IMA-NA) national safety award, state mine inspector’s safety award and Mine Safety & Health Administration (MSHA) sentinels of safety award.

“Production levels were set very high in 2011,” he continued. “We had the second best year since the plant reopened in 1994.” Snyder also said that there currently are 79 employees, and that during 2011, “There were no major changes.”

Regarding the outlook for the new year, the manager commented, “Expectations have been set very high for 2012, which I am very confident that the plant will exceed.”

(Editor’s Note: Wyo-Ben Inc. and Georgia-Pacific Gypsum Corp. each were telephoned several times to be included in the preceding review, but did not respond.)