Down East Credit Union Named 4th Best Place to Work in Maine

Originally based in Baileyville, Down East Credit Union recently placed 4th out of 41 medium-sized companies in the state that were previously named as one of the Best Places to Work in Maine. Baileyville remains the state's largest branch with 27 employees, some of which are shown here. From left to right, front: Ashley Gallway, Shaina Hood, Carly Corbett, Brooke Price, Renee Sherrard, Macey Gillespie, Kristina Murray, Maghen Wilcox, Kayla Pottle; back: Logan Richardson, Meredith Snowman, Missy Alexander, and Rusti Knights. (Submitted photo)

By Lura Jackson

 

It isn’t easy being named as one of the “Best Places to Work in Maine”, an honorific that was bestowed upon a total of 80 companies in the state back in August. Not only did Down East Credit Union [DECU] achieve that title, but the company was recognized at an awards banquet on October 10th for placing 4th out of 41 in the medium-sized business category.

“In our very first year applying for Best Places to Work in Maine, DECU was elated to be recognized as one of the top employers in the entire state of Maine,” commented Joe Moses, a Calais native that was promoted to President of DECU earlier this year. Moses explained that a few years ago the company was experiencing high turnover, and the situation motivated DECU to evaluate itself to improve its workplace environment. “Now, we are proud to be taking care of our team members and we will strive to continuously improve the working environment each year,” Moses stated.

The improvements have been noticeable to employees. “Personally, I’ve seen a lot of change,” said Tonia Lanier, Vice President of Branches and Lending. “We really put a lot of emphasis into making our employees happy. I think it’s nice to work for a company that actually cares about its employees as much as we do.”

“I’ve seen some changes,” concurred Becky Perkins, Calais Branch Manager. “Everything they’ve done has definitely been team member-based. You’re treated like a true person, you’re not just a number or an employee or anything.” DECU has been in the process of changing its language in the workplace by encouraging its employees to refer to themselves and one another as “team members.”

To be recognized as one of the Best Places to Work in Maine, a company has to undergo an extensive application process – a task that the company felt prepared for this year. Every company that applies has its benefits and policies reviewed, and a three-page Employee Engagement and Satisfaction survey must be sent to all employees. In DECU’s case, 96 percent of employees responded. “We were blown away that we got such an amazing response,” said Donna Cochran, Vice President of Human Resources.

When Kristie Libby, who recently joined DECU’s team as Marketing Director, heard about the credit union’s efforts to undergo the application process, she was very impressed. “I have applied for Best Places to Work in the past through another employer. I know how much work goes into it,” she said. 

In August, all of the companies that had placed in the top 80 were notified by e-mail. “When I received the e-mail, I honestly got teary-eyed,” Cochran said. “I was just so happy. Joe and I were pretty positive that we would be one of the ones chosen because of our love of the company and the employees.”

Employees at DECU are encouraged and financially incentivized to participate in educational and certification classes, something that many of the employees regularly do. Of the 84 employees across the eight branches, 53 have completed some kind of additional training this year. “It benefits the employee and the membership, because the staff here are very well educated. They know the products and they know how to match them to members’ needs,” said Libby.

DECU is deeply involved in the communities in which it is based. Aside from regularly participating in financial fitness fairs, branches assist with and raise funds for the Relay for Life, Baileyville’s Octoberfest, the Turkey-A-Thon, backpacks for kids in need of school supplies, and the Ending Hunger campaign, along with many other efforts. In Machias, employees have recently been doing work with the Maine Veterans’ Home. “That was a personal cause to a lot of the staff members over there,” said Libby. “I’ve been working with each of the branches to find out what those causes are that they’re engaged in and helping them in ways they can do more in their community.”

The credit union is committed to its communities in part because it has deep roots in the local area. Founded in 1941 as part of the St. Croix Pulp and Paper company, the credit union was originally just for the employees of the pulp and paper mill. It expanded in 1985 to include Calais, Bailevyille, Princeton, and Baring, and in 1996 it expanded to include all the residents of Washington County. In 1999, it opened its doors to Waldo County, and in 2004 it expanded again to include the counties of Hancock and Penobscot.

Now that DECU has attained 4th in the state for best places to work, it doesn’t plan on stopping its efforts anytime soon. “We’re already looking forward to next year,” said Cochran. She, Libby, Moses, and Lanier will be meeting to go over the evaluations returned by Best Places to Work in Maine. “That way we can work on the items we really need to work on,” Cochran explained. “Maybe next year we’ll get number one!”

Posing with the Best Places to Work in Maine award is the Calais branch of Down East Credit Union. Calais has the second highest number of employees of the credit union's eight branches located across four counties. (Photo by Lura Jackson)