By CJ Baker, Powell Tribune
When the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services and its partners recently selected the large and small employers of the year, they chose a pair of Park County businesses.
The HumbleBee Shop, a clothing boutique located in downtown Powell, was named the top small employer, while Sierra Trading Post, which operates a store and call center in Cody, was named the best large employer.
Black Hills Energy — a gas company whose territory includes Park County — was named the Veteran-friendly Employer of the Year, while Delta Wye of Gillette was honored for its efforts to recruit and hire youth.
The Department of Workforce Services (DWS) and the Wyoming Workforce Development Council honored the four employers for “excellence in workforce practices” on Oct. 20, during the 2021 Wyoming Safety and Workforce Summit.
DWS Director Robin Sessions Cooley said the awards are an important way to recognize outstanding employers around Wyoming.
“Each year we get the honor of presenting these awards to employers who are truly passionate about creating exceptional workplaces,” said Director Cooley. “The department and its partners are grateful to these employers and workers for their leadership and contributions toward a thriving business climate in Wyoming.”
Given the innovative employers operating in the state, “we remain very optimistic about the future of Wyoming’s workforce,” said Wyoming Workforce Development Council Chairman Fabian Lobera.
The HumbleBee Shop, which opened over the summer, was chosen in part because of its efforts to collaborate with other local businesses. The women- and employee-owned boutique offers free advertising and business development assistance to its vendors — largely made up of single parents, women and children — and doesn’t charge a consignment/vendor fee, owner Mallory Riley said.
Riley said the business works to train and assist other aspiring entrepreneurs and “intends to lead the way in creating a collaborative business environment to encourage local businesses to cooperate and become problem-solvers for the economic hurdles facing business owners in Wyoming.”
The shop encourages community members to support other local stores; during its grand opening, the HumbleBee held a block party and gave prizes to customers who visited other businesses. The approach struck a chord with the Department of Workforce Services and Workforce Development Council.
“We appreciate their efforts to raise the tide in their community,” Lobera said during the awards presentation.
As for Sierra Trading Post, which is a division of TJ Maxx, the department praised the way the company responded to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, providing employees with laptops to enable them to work from home.
“Rather than close down and lay off the many employees who worked in the Cody and Cheyenne call centers, they kept the business open and those employees working by finding a way to make it work,” Lobera said.
To qualify as a large employer, a business must have at least 250 employees.
Black Hills Energy, meanwhile, was praised for the way it recruits, hires and supports U.S. military veterans. The Department of Workforce Services presentation noted that Blacks Hill Energy has participated in various initiatives to show support for veterans and offers military members paid time off. The energy company — which serves some 1.3 million customers in Wyoming and seven other states — has more than 450 veterans on its payroll.
Lobera said the Department of Workforce Services received more nominations for its 2021 awards than it has in years, with all nominees worthy of being honored. He said many of the applications were “super inspiring.”
“Because we have so many wonderful people, we also have a great many wonderful places to work,” Lobera said. “And it’s just one of the reasons we stay through those winter storms and spring winds.”
He added that, “It’s not just the people involved — it’s these organizations that are doing great things.”
The annual Wyoming Safety and Workforce Summit includes sessions aimed at improving safety practices and strengthening Wyoming’s workforce. Topics included cryptocurrency/blockchain technology, safety success stories, how to create secure and comfortable home offices, combating burnout, COVID-19 regulations and “the vanishing workforce.”