Bigelow Laboratory

Bigelow in Maine's top ten best places to work

Posted:  Wednesday, October 17, 2012 - 9:00am

Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences was ranked ninth in the small-to-medium Maine business category in the seventh annual Best Places to Work in Maine program. Bigelow was the only science-oriented, nonprofit, and sole entrant from Lincoln County. The award ceremony was held on October 11 at the Ramada Inn & Conference Center in Lewiston for the 42 Maine businesses receiving this distinction.

“We were thrilled,” Bigelow's Executive Director and President Graham Shimmield said. “We had no idea where we ranked until the event. They counted down from the bottom to top. We were absolutely delighted to be in the top 10.”

Maine business owners entered the program in one of two categories: small to medium (with 15-249 employees) to large (250-plus). All entrants must submit an employer's benefits and qualities questionnaire including what type of work or services the company provides, company policies and practices, the number of employees, and company demographics. The second assessment is based on responses from the Employee Engagement and Satisfaction Survey of 76 questions. The employee survey made up three-quarters of company scores and the employer questionnaires the remaining quarter.

The excellence research firm, Best Companies Group (BCG) evaluated all data and analyzed each company's strengths and opportunities for employees. BCG is based in Harrisburg, Penn.

All ranking employers will receive a report that includes analysis of each company and the anonymous employee responses from the questionnaires. Bigelow Executive Director Graham Shimmield said he entered the lab in the program specifically for feedback that would reflect the quality of the institution. The information would also serve as a means for self-analysis and improving company performance.

The past year has been both exciting and chaotic for Bigelow staff as they finally began moving out of the assorted buildings that were the West Boothbay Harbor campus to a brand new, state-of-the-art facility in East Boothbay. On December 5, 2011, the first group of employees began moving into the first completed wing, The Center for Blue Biotechnology, of the new East Boothbay campus.

In June of this year the second wing, the Center for Ocean Biochemistry and Climate Change, was ready for staff. The last group of employees will soon be getting ready to move into their wing, The Center for Ocean Health, is expected to be move-in ready for the remaining staff at the West Harbor location in mid-November.

“When people are going through a lot of change it can be fairly uncomfortable for them and I can understand that they would feel uneasy and uncertain,” Shimmield said. “We are trying quite hard to ensure that with the new move here we are focusing on putting people first and making sure we have better policies in place for career development and progression and emphasis on professional training aspects. We have been hiring a lot of new people and also wanted to make sure our environment is as safe and informative as it can be.”

Currently there are 68 employees at Bigelow, 10 have been hired over the last year. Of those, four are from the Boothbay region: Valerie Augustine is Shimmield's new assistant; Tim Pinkham was hired as deputy facilities manager, Sara Yentsch is the new marketing director for the culture collection, and Kimberly Reed, receptionist.

“As we grow the scientific base we will be hiring internationally, but with those positions we will be adding support and administrative positions that are year-round, and come with good salaries for people in the community,” Shimmield said.

Just what did employees say about Bigelow the workplace? The number one response, communicated with enthusiasm, for four long-time employees was “community.”

Senior research scientist Paty Matrai arrived in Boothbay, and Bigelow, from Miami 17 years ago. “There is something about the lifestyle of the community. There is something about the spirit of this institution; it is a community of people who collaborate and have similar values even though they come from all different kinds of places.”

Research Associate Brian Thompson is a Wiscasset native now living in Boothbay has been with Bigelow for 15 years. He cited the lab's “family atmosphere,” the new facility and its location.

“What matters to me the most as far as being happy in an ideal working space is to do science and to have a work space I can do it well in,” Thompson said. “The investment in a new facility, that is state-of-the-art, where we can do our work to the best of our ability means everything to me.”

Wendy Bellows has been with the lab since 1977 as safety officer and research assistant who has done a little bit of everything.

“I like the fact that everyone seems to communicate well here within the scientific groups, not isolated in little compartments,” Bellows said. “It's almost like working with a big family. Everyone looks out for one another … it's just a cool place to be. We share more than equipment – we share thoughts and ideas.”

Research Associate Dave Drapeau lives in Boothbay and has been with Bigelow since 1995.

“I feel like its a family-type atmosphere as busy as everyone is. Bigelow takes pretty good care of us here, the benefits are good, and we just moved into this beautiful place. This was talked about when I got here … to see it actually, finally, happen is pretty cool. And I think its given everyone a moral boost as well.”

Drapeau was a member of the personnel committee that decided Bigelow should pursue the program. “We all had tempered expectations. You don't know what you're up against. The way that Bigelow is funded, there are limitations on what we can do for people. There are things we can't do that private or larger companies can. We thought we would find out what we could do better. I don't think anyone expected these results, I think its a testament to how good everyone is feeling right now.”