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Menominee Tribal Enterprises (MTE) was honored by the Shawano Country Chamber of Commerce as 2018 Manufacturer of the Year. Shown here at the awards event are, from left, MTE plant manger Pershing Frechette, MTE President Laurie Reiter, Nicole Fish, MTE board chairman Joe Besaw and vice chairman Justin Lepscier. Submitted photo 

At the heart of the Menominee Forest in Neopit lies Menominee Tribal Enterprises (MTE).

The Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin manages its most prized possession, the forest, with expertise and skill that has been honed for more than 100 years, and whose techniques and knowledge are sought all over the world.

“Since 1854, we have harvested more than two and one-half billion board feet of lumber from our land,” said Laurie Reiter, MTE president. “That is equivalent to cutting all the standing timber of the reservation almost twice over. Yet, the saw timber volume now standing is greater than that which was here in 1854 when the Wolf River Treaty defined the Reservation.”

MTE logs lumber from the Menominee forest using sustainable-yield practices. Products include logs for pulpwood, sawn lumber, shredded bark, wood chips, sawdust and finished millwork products such as cabinetry and moldings.

Though the mill has historically been considered a man’s territory, MTE took on their first female president when Reiter was hired in July 2017.

“I took over a company for which I served on the board of directors for many years, so I was well aware of the challenges ahead,” Reiter said. She has a bachelor’s degree in business administration with an emphasis in finance from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and an MBA from Lakeland College.

MTE held its centennial celebration in 2008. Since that time, the mill has added a new steam plant, a new dry line for lumber, and expanded into finished products such as cabinetry and mouldings. A small mill also was added to process smaller diameter logs. Most recently, MTE entered the basketball court market through partnerships to provide the wood used by the NCAA, and potentially the 2020 Olympics.

All these additions have created more job opportunities for the community. Most recently, MTE was named Shawano Country Chamber of Commerce’s 2018 Manufacturer of the Year.

“The millwork division was started in 2010 as a means to diversify and develop added-value products for new markets, although it is still only a small percentage of MTE’s business,” Reiter said.

MTE fills orders through dealers located all over Wisconsin, and they include Torborg’s, Top Shelf, Green Bay Area Builders, Actuate Improvement, Blanker Building Systems, Contractor’s Choice Lumber, Cabinetry by Artistic Design, and Buehler’s Interiors.

Through the added products and services, MTE saw a 4 percent increase in employment during the past year, expanding from 185 to 192 employees — 170 of which are full-time.

“Working close to home and for the community has been the biggest positive from working at MTE,” said Anita Escalante, account supervisor.

Escalante has been with MTE for more than 30 years, and earned her Bachelor’s degree while working full-time. She said that “working here helped accomplish the goals for the educational accounting background I chose.”

In an effort to provide safety and educate the their employees, MTE offers a variety of safety and training sessions, including chainsaw courses, logger rescue, and hearing conservation — just to name a few. A job training program also was initiated during the past year where applicants undergo an 8-10 week paid program to assist with work ethics, rules, on-the-job training, team building, and the potential to be hired on after completion.

“These initiatives underline MTE’s commitment to its employees and emphasize how much the company is willing to invest in its members,” Reiter said. “Training and education is ongoing, often provided on-site, and highly valued.”

Partnerships have been established with Northcentral Technical College (NTC) and College of Menominee Nation to ensure courses offered are in line with employment possibilities at MTE. An upcoming collaboration with NTC will offer staff training using LEAN processes and developing middle management for training on accountability standards.

The commitment to employees has shown through with dedicated employees. Reiter said the top five most-tenured employees have been with the company since the early- to mid-1970s and have a combined total of 225 years of experience working for MTE.

MTE also supports the community financially through donations to programs and individuals, and by participation in the many parades and similar events (homecoming, 4th of July, Memorial Day, and community trick or treating).

Looking toward the future, Reiter said the Menominee Tribe’s greatest challenge will be to balance technology with the human factor, which can be tough when Mother Nature is part of the equation.

“The resources for production are supplied by our forests and our sustained yield practices,” Reiter said. “We cannot take what we want, when we want, when the markets are good. We take what our management practices allow and what Mother Nature provides.”

Another significant issue facing MTE is finding the balance between maintaining the company’s profitability and providing employment to Menominee Tribal members.

“Though many companies in business look to streamline productivity by eliminating or reducing the human factor while providing superior products, MTE is determined to provide long-term, meaningful employment to our community members and future generations,” Reiter said.

“Challenges are many, but are overcome by the Menominee commitment to continuing with the long-standing tradition of managing the Tribe’s resources responsibly,” Reiter said.