Todd Foster, Kent Kuelbs, Sharon Hengel, Deb Jensen, Joe Cady, and Steve Sill pose with Aspen’s awardsFrom left, Todd Foster, Kent Kuelbs, Sharon Hengel, Deb Jensen, Joe Cady, and Steve Sill pose with Aspen's awards.

ASPEN Equipment Company has gained a bit of cachet by having a president, Steve Sill, who just happens to be the current National Truck Equipment Association (NTEA) president.

But cachet alone doesn't make a company better. Sill has created a culture and a climate conducive to excellence and productivity in the Minneapolis-based truck equipment distributor.

It is seen in the recent Gold Level award given by Hennepin County for its Wellness by Design program — Aspen's third straight year to be honored.

“He has been very supportive in allowing us the time and resources to put together the program,” said Sharon Hengel, HR Director at Aspen Equipment. “Management's support has sent a message to our employees that this isn't a flash-in-the-pan idea. This is part of our culture, and we're interested in having this component woven into our company as much as sales, safety, and the other pieces of our benefits package.”

Through its wellness program, the company has been tracking seven overall wellness ratings: coronary risk, cancer risk, nutrition status, fitness status, stress status, substance use, and safety status. In 2010, employees saw improvements in all seven ratings. When benchmarked against other companies that use the same wellness vendor, Aspen exceeded the average improvement in six of the seven ratings.

Aspen Equipment offers participants of this program several incentives to reward healthy living. Yearly biometric screenings are performed on-site to assist employees to target areas of improvement. After completing the biometric screenings, participants complete a health risk assessment and meet regularly with a health coach via the telephone to set and work towards personal goals. Healthy snacks and meal options are also spread throughout the workplace to provide employees with healthful eating alternatives.

Aspen Equipment coordinates various activities throughout the year to foster an active lifestyle, including bicycle trips, cross-country skiing, and various challenges — to adopt a walking program, lose weight, or avoid fast food.

“People enjoy the competitions,” she said. “We had secret sleuths. If one of our little spies saw somebody eating healthy, they'd put the name of that person in a drawing for a prize, unbeknownst to them that they even had been considered.”

Hengel said the company's stability and low employee turnover have contributed to make the program successful.

“For our population, it's a really nice fit,” she said. “People have been here a long time. A commitment to a wellness program is going to pay off for the company as well as the employees. It's a long-term commitment. It's not something you achieve in a short time and then move on to something else. It's a continuous part of our culture.

“As a smaller employer, with about 100 employees, being able to offer the benefit of a wellness program helps us with hiring and retention. We can compete with larger employers who are also offering wellness programs as a benefit.

Healthy snacks and meal options are also spread throughout the workplace “Our management team saw the value in providing this additional benefit; our CFO saw the ROI and our president saw the positive benefits it could offer our many long-term employees. We designed the program to keep employees engaged throughout the entire year. Incentives are paid out quarterly when required activities are completed for each quarter. If someone doesn't complete the activity in a given quarter, they don't get the incentive, but they are able to continue in the program and complete the next quarter's activity and get that quarter's incentive.”

She said that at the start of the program, they decided they wanted to offer health coaching for all participants, not just those in a “high-risk” category.

“Employees who were already very active on their own have enjoyed the additional support they get from a health coach,” she said. “As an employer, we want to keep those folks engaged too, and often times those are your high performers. It's important to find ways to reward to that group. And hopefully we've kept some people from falling into that ‘high-risk’ category who may have been heading that way.”

She said the key to setting up a successful wellness program has been in knowing the employees. The company decided on goals, got measurements to know where it was starting, found out what interested the employees, and is allowing the program to evolve and grow with the needs of the group.

Since starting its wellness program in 2009, Aspen has realized measurable savings in its medical insurance renewals. This helped employees with their personal budgets and allowed the company to continue offering an attractive medical insurance benefit package.

“This is a good investment for a company, especially one whose employees have an average of almost 13 years of employment at Aspen,” Hengel said.

Aspen has over 90,000 square feet of production space and locations in Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska. Sill began his career as the first third-generation employee in the family business, Road Machinery & Supplies, in high school. He went on to attend Montana State University and the University of Minnesota-Duluth before moving to Vail, Colorado. He eventually returned to Duluth to finish school and then moved to Minneapolis for work. In 1986, he accepted the position of rental coordinator at RMS Truck Equipment Division's Bloomington office. Those responsibilities led to roles as used equipment manager, territory manager, general sales manager and, ultimately, vice president/general manager.

In 1993, a plan was formed to separate the assets of what would eventually become Aspen Equipment from those of RMS. That goal was accomplished on July 1, 1994, when Aspen Equipment was born under Sill's leadership as president.