Earning #57 – Fast Company’s 100 Best Workplaces for Innovators – WCCO Belting’s Culture of Innovation, Blog Post

Earning #57 – Fast Company’s 100 Best Workplaces for Innovators – WCCO Belting’s Culture of Innovation, Blog Post

“I don’t have an engineering degree; I don’t even have a high school education. I dropped out of school to join the military. So, I have a degree from the university of hard knocks and practical experience.” – Ed Shorma, Founder of WCCO Belting, 65th Anniversary Celebration

Innovation – and encouraging employees to create new, innovative ways to enhance the business – is a core value at WCCO Belting. Following his service in the Korean War, our founder returned home in 1954 and opened a shoe repair shop. Realizing an opportunity to use his sewing machines to start up a tarp/canvas operation to serve local farmers and agricultural equipment manufacturers, innovation and employee engagement became his foundation for success. A foundation that remains in place today and under our philosophy that innovation can – and does – come from anywhere.

We are proud to have been named to the 2022 Fast Company ‘100 Best Workplaces for Innovators’ list – #57 – for creating an environment and programs that encourage employees to use their voice and challenge the status quo. From suggesting small improvements to production processes to sharing new ideas for products, equipment, and technology, “innovation inspiration” is a core business strategy to move WCCO – and the industries we serve – forward.

Here are the top three ways WCCO Belting encourages and promotes innovation from our employees:

  1. Our R&D processes include cross-departmental collaboration of employees at all levels. WCCO uses a phase (stage) gate process for new product development. Idea-generation, project management, and execution are all cross-functional. In addition to this being a learning opportunity for employees early in their career, it’s designed to increase each project team’s ability to think outside of the box when determining customer requirements, prototype design, marketing strategy, build process, and more. The result has been multiple patented and patent-pending solutions for existing and new customers that redefine performance in their markets.
  2. We thoughtfully provide several avenues for employees to learn, get involved, be creative, and advance themselves personally and professionally.
    1. Workforce training: Training is a key component of employee and company success in the manufacturing sector. At WCCO, it serves as a day-1 example of our desire for employees to learn and ask questions. In 2014, we started by hanging up a training interest sheet for “how to read a tape measure” and over 50 people registered. Today, WCCO’s internal training program has grown to hundreds of published documents and courses specific to our business operations, and in 2021, WCCO reduced product quality incidents by 20% as a percent of sales. Courses come in the form of one-on-one training, group training, hands-on learning, e-learning, brainstorms, and more to guarantee training resonates with every type of learner.
    2. Employee Suggestion Program: In 2014, we launched an Employee Suggestion Program. Unlike a traditional employee suggestion or process improvement program where a lengthy financial analysis determines implementation, the decision to move forward with an idea falls under the spirit of, “Who better to know how to fix something or create a more efficient process than the person who is working on it day to day?” This program has been THE largest initiator of employee innovation, and it wouldn’t have been successful if ideas weren’t implemented quickly, and follow-up reasoning wasn’t provided to submitters whose ideas didn’t move forward.

      Since its inception, employees have submitted over 3,200 suggestions and 59% of all ideas have been implemented to improve output, quality, process efficiency, and more. Additionally, 7 of the top 10 submitters of ideas that move forward, since program launch, are women.
    3. CREW Team: In 2021, WCCO’s wellness program evolved into CREW Team to focus on employee health beyond physical wellness. The name represents the goal to build a Culture of Respect, Engagement and Wellness within the business. Respect is WCCO’s core value, and engagement is critical to the company’s culture of innovation. CREW Team members coordinate internal activities and events for employees focused on bettering oneself, supporting the community, and teambuilding. They also took responsibility for calling attention to important topics like mental health, LGBTQ+ education, substance abuse, and personal financial challenges.

      The benefits to the program are multiple, as CREW not only engages younger generations, the future of manufacturing, but the CREW Team members themselves learn critical skills operating within the team such as running a meeting, monitoring a budget, public speaking, event organization, and more. CREW has become a core business strategy for WCCO’s next-gen leadership development, offering low cost and low risk learning opportunities.
    4. Safety: In 2021, dedicated safety training team members were added to WCCO’s safety department. After implementing a new, innovative approach to safety onboarding for new production workers, of the 125 employees hired in 2021 and into the first part of 2022, there wasn’t a single recordable injury in a production worker’s first 90 days. Safety training hours also increased by 37%. The company has earned a multitude of safety awards from the North Dakota Safety Council over the last two years for their efforts to promote and encourage safety among employees. In addition, creative safety-themed activities and events are increasing in frequency and impact for workforce engagement.
  3. We attract a diverse pool of employees. For decades, there’s been a sign above WCCO’s front door that states, “We are always looking for great people.” To attract a diverse talent pool, WCCO implemented an innovative ‘first impression management strategy’ for our interview process. We traded conference room “interrogations” for facility tours and a conversational interview style. The applicant learns about the history and culture of WCCO, sees firsthand the activities of each work center on the production floor, and is encouraged to ask questions – again, a demonstration of our desire to open a dialogue with each employee. This method not only promotes the company as an open and trustworthy employer but helps the interviewer learn where the applicant will best find job satisfaction.

    During the interview, the company’s uniqueness is emphasized. This justifies why all new employees start on a level playing field and train side-by-side regardless of past work experience, age, gender, or first language, which has also been critical to its enrollment of new Americans. Today, about 50% of WCCO’s production team are women, over half of the production supervisors are women, and 10+ languages are spoken among the workforce.

At WCCO Belting, we have a longstanding strategy to engage employees and drive innovation. We promote career-building in manufacturing and provide numerous methods for employees to thrive while establishing a fulfilling career at the company. It is through a variety of programs and our general philosophy that innovation comes from anywhere that we have earned recognition as a Fast Company ‘Best Workplaces for Innovators,’ and we couldn't be more proud!


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Our dedicated team and friendly culture consistently rank WCCO as one of the best places to work in the area, and we are always looking for great people