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Business Booms for Shared Work Company

>>AMY SUSAN: Hi, I'm Amy Susan, Director of Communications for the Missouri Department of Labor. Over the past few years, hundreds of Missouri employers have participated in the state Shared Work Program to help them through some difficult economic times. As a result, tens of thousands of Missouri jobs have been saved and with Missouri being only one of 17 states to offer this to employers, it's no wonder why we've had an economic upswing over the past few years. And now I'm joined here with Lee Holmes of Sunnen Products here in Saint Louis. They've participated in the Shared Work Program, so thanks, Lee, for having us.

>>LEE HOLMES: You're welcome.

>>AMY: Can you tell us a little bit about Sunnen Products and what you guys make?

>>LEE: Sunnen was founded back in 1924 and we make equipment that makes living better. We sell to companies like Caterpillar, John Deere, Harley Davidson, to make their engines, motors more efficient.

>>AMY: How many people in this area, or the surrounding area, do you employ?

>>LEE: Currently have about 455 employees at Sunnen. About 430 are local Saint Louis.

>>AMY: And I understand years ago you guys were experiencing that economic slow time, like many other businesses in our state as well as throughout the country. What discussions did you have as a company?

>>LEE: Well, internally, it was planning what are we going to do. When we see our business drop 50 percent in a month and then continue down, we needed to make some decisions and one was do we need to reduce the headcount of our workforce.

>>AMY: What is the most difficult part about laying off employees?

>>LEE: One issue you have when you're contemplating laying people off is what do you do when things get better again and the cost of training, finding people, cause some of the people that, if you let them go, they're going to try to find work right away, so they might not be available so the cost of bringing them back; the cost of finding new people and the cost of training new people, it's a big thing to think about.

>>AMY: Knowing that, tell us a little bit about the Shared Work Program and how you found out about it.

>>LEE: Well, the Shared Work Program was something brought to our attention by our auditors. Our auditors asked if we knew about that cause they knew what was going on with our business and it's something that we looked into, looked at and, again, one of the questions is cost; what's it going to cost us to do this because unemployment rates are affected by the people you lay off so Shared Work Program, while it does effect your unemployment rate, it doesn't effect it as much as if you let people go 100 percent, so it's a fraction of that but you still get to keep your employees.

>>AMY: Can you explain some of the feedback that you heard from your employees after being a part of this program?

>>LEE: It effects how people look at things internally, so they're concern, we're going to lose our jobs, so when they can have that little bit of a reassurance that, okay, we're going to do what we can, cut back the work week a little bit and, again, it's all in demand. If people aren't buying things, we're not making it cause we don't make things for the shelf; we make things for our customers.

>>AMY: Okay. And at the same time these employees also got to keep, I imagine, their health -

>>LEE: Yes.

>>AMY: - and if their kids had a doctor appointment they -

>>LEE: Uh-huh.

>>AMY: - could still take them?

>>LEE: Yeah. The benefits were all still kept a hundred percent. Whatever they had before, health, dental, vision, you still had on the Shared Work Program.

>>AMY: Would you recommend this to employers throughout the state and why?

>>LEE: I would because it was--it wasn't a whole lot of work on HR's part. I'm looking, okay, what's it going to cost us and what time is it going to take for me to do this. Applying for it, extremely simple. Basically, you set up an application, here's what we think we're going to have to do with our workforce. The state got back to us very quickly and we just had to fill it out, send it in, and our employees got a check from the Department of Labor in the mail every week -

>>AMY: Great.

>>LEE: So it was a very simple, simple process.

>>AMY: Why is it so important to keep companies like Sunnen thriving in Missouri?

>>LEE: The way I look at it is we're the largest employer in Maplewood, which is just right outside of Saint Louis city limits. If we can be a viable company in Saint Louis, we're also selling to the 50 states; we're selling overseas so there's a lot of other companies and employees that are counting on our business.

>>AMY: About how much of your products that you make do you think you export out of Missouri or out of country?

>>LEE: We're about a 60 percent domestic seller and about 40 percent goes overseas.

>>AMY: Lastly, is there any news that you would like to share with us about Sunnen?

>>LEE: Sunnen, after--as a lot of companies, had a rough year in 2009; 2010 was extremely positive; 2011 was actually a record profit year for Sunnen. We wound up hiring about 35 people in 2011.

>>AMY: Great. Would you say there's a little bit of thanks to the Shared Work Program because of how successful you guys are now?

>>LEE: There--there definitely is. When you can--when you can keep the employees that have been working here for years and years and years and give them a little something to offset the time that there wasn't work to do. You don't have to retrain, rehire people, it makes it a lot easier for the company, yes.

>>AMY: And Sunnen is just one of the many success stories being shared in regards to the Shared Work Program. In fact, last year we saw a 20 percent increase in participation. Lee, thank you for having us out here.

>>LEE: You're welcome.

>>AMY: And if you're interested in shared work, simply visit our new website at and see our new interactive example as well as take a few minutes to apply online if it's right for you. Thanks.