Getting Careers Flowing

Just north of the famed dells of the Wisconsin River, Marquis Energy, in Necedah, Wisconsin, is earning a reputation as a career-building employer with a focus on safety, employee health and opportunities for professional growth and advancement.
By Tom Bryan | July 15, 2020

FROM JULY 2020 ISSUE

 

Ethanol Producer Awards:

Workplace of the Year 

Marquis Energy-Wisconsin 

 

Marquis Energy’s decision to keep its Necedah, Wisconsin, ethanol plant up and running, with enhanced health protocols in place, during the pandemic—which kept its employees productive and safe—is another notch in a long list of quiet contributions the company has made for its personnel, and they for it, over the years. And with so much uncertainty in the world, workplace stability—trusting your employer to look out for you—is more important than ever. The management team at Marquis Energy-Wisconsin understands that obligation and considers their employees’ wellbeing priority No. 1. 


Plant Manager Jeff Knutson says that at no time has this corporate priority been more clear than during COVID-19, when Marquis suspended in-person meetings, temporarily closed its administrative building and restricted third-party contractors from site visits. He says the team also made its own alcohol-based cleaning agent and used it to sanitize the facility. “We’re still essentially closed off to outside people,” he told EPM in early June. “If we absolutely need something done, we’ll make exceptions, but we’re trying not to allow contractors on site right now, for the safety of our team and our community.”

Rolling out new protocols for COVID-19 didn’t seem totally foreign to Marquis, due to its strong adherence to plant safety and emphasis on employee health. Even before the pandemic, the Necedah facility had mandatory monthly training meetings and required on-line training. Employees there say management continuously issues safety-related bulletins and e-mails regarding potential incidents, or “near-misses,” along with corrective actions. And, this spring, the plant was nearing 500 days since a lost-time workplace incident.

Employees First
“Marquis has done well with safety, at each of its facilities, and I think that can be credited to the way we communicate,” Knutson says. “We talk about safety constantly—we bring it up in meetings with intention—and if there’s something that we need to improve on, from a safety aspect, we get on it right away. We don’t let it go.”

Knutson says Marquis personnel have an app on their phones and tablets (Velocity EHS Software) that enables the staff to document and record observations, and make notes, to improve plant safety. “It’s just one of those cost-effective ways to go after the low-hanging fruit of plant safety and try to prevent people from getting hurt,” Knutson says. “If there’s an incident at any Marquis location, management is immediately notified, and we make necessary adjustments to our processes to reduce the likelihood of repeating the same type of incident again.”

Marquis is also progressive about employee health and wellness. For example, employees are offered annual wellness screenings, which include a multi-panel blood test. It’s a unique benefit that has alerted at least a couple of employees to medical conditions they were unaware of. Knutson, who held positions with four other ethanol plants before settling in with Marquis nine years ago, says the way the company cares for its employees is distinct. “The owners of this company really place an emphasis on health, and the employees appreciate that.”

Career Focused
Necedah is a small community north of Wisconsin Dells, which swells with tourists each summer. And while plant personnel enjoy small-town living, the region affords them the amenities of a more metropolitan lifestyle. “It’s a town of 700, but there’s a lot more going on here than people sometimes realize,” Knutson says, explaining that the plant is just a short drive from Castle Rock Lake, which flows into the Wisconsin River and its scenic dells. 

It’s a stunning area, but one not known for an abundance of good-paying, year-round career opportunities. So, the Necedah ethanol plant is not only an appreciated local business, but a sought-after place of employment. “There are other good places to work in the region, but our focus is on having a career versus a job,” Knutson says, explaining that Marquis works with regional high schools and colleges to make sure young people know about career opportunities in ethanol, “even if it’s years later when they come back home.”

Of course, working at an ethanol plant isn’t for everyone. “At the end of the day, this is a refinery, and it is shift work,” Knutson says. “We hire people that understand that. It’s an opportunity to earn a good living, but it comes with sometimes having to work weekends, nights and holidays. It’s a real commitment.”

Marquis Energy-Wisconsin is a 50-person plant—part of a larger 300-person company—that makes a point of providing opportunities for advancement and career growth within the organization. The company prides itself on fostering  professional career paths for its employees, and Knutson says that hinges around continuing education and training. “We also believe it’s important for employees to participate in leadership classes, seminars and online learning,” he says. “There are a lot of different ways to further your skillset—not just attending a four-year college—and we try to provide those avenues. The longer you’ve been employed here, the more promotable you are, but you also have to put in that time to further your skillset, if that’s something you’re interested in pursuing.”

Employees at the plant say they appreciate coaching sessions and one-on-one meetings with supervisors that encourage an open, two-way dialogue. Employees are given a voice, frequently asked about their needs, and sometimes even asked to evaluate their supervisors.

Marquis’ ownership group is proud of the fact that so many of its employees are former or current military personnel, and first responders in the community. “I don’t know the exact percentage—it’s probably 20 percent of our people—that are giving their time as EMTs, fire fighters, rescue, or just volunteering around the community,” Knutson says. “We try to hire the right person for the right position, and that often ends up being someone with military experience. We’re fortunate to have veterans in our workplace.”  

Note: Marquis Energy-Wisconsin was nominated for this award by Jim Rattunde, grounskeeper at the facility.