In 2012, Utz Quality Foods bought the former Hanover Lantern headquarters and warehouse, less than a half-mile from its Hanover headquarters. Officials just didn't know what they were going to do with it.
Around the same time, the snack-food maker began focusing on health and wellness benefits for employees as a way not only to improve quality of life but also to help control health care costs. After all, those costs for the self-insured company were going up by 8 percent to 12 percent every year.
The company hired Ginger Miller as its health and wellness coordinator and began offering employees biometric testing and other programs. The goal is to encourage a healthy lifestyle before issues arise.
"The problem is people who are on the borderline," Miller said. "They've not seen a doctor. Then something happens that puts them in a whole new realm."
It became clear, though, that more could be done, and that vacant building just down Kindig Lane became the answer.
"A light bulb went on," said Dylan Lissette, president and CEO of the Hanover-based company. "We said, 'If we're going to be serious about this, we should do a fitness center.'"
In April 2013, the 4,000-square-foot health and wellness center was opened in what had been cubical space for Hanover Lantern. The 24/7 facility for employees and their spouses offers a complete gym, as well as guidance from Miller on ways to improve health and well-being.
The company spent about $500,000 to renovate the space into a gym, having the company's maintenance workers do a lot of the construction, Lissette said.
The gym has dozens of pieces of equipment, including treadmills and standing and seated elliptical machines. It has Cybex-brand circuit training machines, plus free weights, Pilates balls, a stretching cage and other workout gear. Thanks to free Wi-Fi, patrons can stream movies, television and music or surf the Web while working out.
All this is fronted by large flat-screen TVs and a wall of windows floor to ceiling that looks out onto Kindig Lane.
"It's not some basement," Lissette said.
Of the more than 1,300 local employees, about 900 have gone through an introduction to using the gym, Miller said. About 100 spouses have, too. On average, the gym sees about 70 people a day.
The gym has showers, too, so employees can be found working out at all hours. George Neiderer, Utz's vice president of human resources, said he and several co-workers use the facility at 4:30 a.m. before starting work.
"The 24/7 aspect is great," he said, noting that the food factory operates round-the-clock. "People will partner with each other."
It's not just fitness equipment. Zumba classes and health classes are held in another room in the building, Miller said.
Utz is the latest in a growing group of corporations enacting health and wellness programs, said Brandan Hardie, executive director of the National Wellness Institute, based in Stevens Point, Wis.
She cited an article from the Harvard Business Review titled "What's the Hard Return on Employee Wellness Programs?" which found the return on investment could be as high as $6 for every $1 spent.
"It's kind of at the point where it's no longer a question of do (such programs) work," she said. "We're in agreement that they do work if they're constructed well. We're now at the point of how to construct them so they let us reach our goal."
The goal doesn't necessarily have to be tied to money, Hardie said. It might be tied to boosting staff morale or reducing the number of sick days.
Because of the success in Hanover, Utz's wellness program has expanded to the company's factories in Massachusetts, Louisiana and California, as well as to other parts of Pennsylvania. While they have access to the information and programming, none has a gym — yet. In the meantime, employees are given vouchers for local gyms.
"We'd like to do more," Lissette said, noting the 50,000-square-foot warehouse still has a lot of vacant space. "If this place (the gym) was filled, we would expand. If it's working, that's what makes it exciting for us." <