When she graduated from college two years ago with an accounting degree, following the worst financial crisis since the 1930s, Drea Arnoldin had some idea that finding work near her hometown of Missoula, Montana might require some career flexibility.
“But if you had told me I’d be working in a scrap yard, I wouldn’t have believed it,” she added.
Drea (short for Andrea) sometimes jokes about the rough image of her work at Pacific Steel and Recycling, but the truth is that metal recycling is a logistically complex, international, multi-billion dollar a year business that demands every bit of what she learned in school – including the accounting.
When you are a young person like Drea, keeping careful track of someone else’s money on a spread sheet can be easier than giving a thought to your own retirement saving. Drea said she didn’t think too much about the fact that Pacific is owned by its employees when she started working for the company. In a relatively a short time, however, participating in Pacific’s ESOP has transformed her attitude toward work and her views about saving.
First, she started hearing about long-time Pacific employees, some of them with modest salaries, who had managed through the employer-provided ESOP to save considerable sums – more than enough for a secure retirement. She then asked herself whether she would have chosen to start putting aside enough savings, through an IRA or a 401(k) plan, to build this kind of nest egg.
Drea said she realized that “the best thing about the plan, at least for me, is that I don’t have any choice about it.” Pacific makes contributions to the fund on her behalf and unlike a 401(k) plan, there aren’t provisions to make withdrawals or borrow from it. “I like the fact that I can’t touch the money,” she said.
Employee ownership has made Drea think about work for Pacific as a career, instead of only her first job out of school. She travels to other Pacific facilities around the Northwest advising younger employees about the value of the company’s ESOP. “I tell them ‘look at what this can do for you,’ and I think it gives them a good reason to stick with the company.”