The New Balance (NB) shoe company recently earned a spot in the Sixth Annual “Best Places to Work in Maine” program for having established an outstanding work environment for the second year in a row.

NORWAY — Along with 39 other companies across the state, the New Balance (NB) shoe company recently earned a spot in the Sixth Annual “Best Places to Work in Maine” program for having established an outstanding work environment for the second year in a row, based on an assessment administered by the Best Companies Group.

The specific ranking order of the top 40 companies will be announced in October.

The program, which began in 2006, chooses the companies based on employee policies and responses from the employees themselves.

“We were pleased to hear that we were named to the program for the second time,” said Chris Arsenault, a human resources executive and NB employee for 17 years.

Arsenault explained that New Balance Domestic Manufacturing operates five factories in New England: three in Maine, two in Massachusetts, and “there’s even one in the UK,” he said.

“Many people within the state and even the U.S. don’t realize that [New Balance] makes shoes here in the U.S.,” he said. “It’s our own best-kept secret.”

“It’s really a testament to the culture of the company.”

According to Arsenault, Maine employs 860 New Balance associates – 25 percent have been with the company for 15-plus years and 13 percent of that population, for more than 20 years.

He says that what makes New Balance one of the best places to work is that “the associates are very ingrained in the communities they support.”

Manufacturing Associate Tracie Stevens said that she takes pride in the company’s various volunteering opportunities, like taking part in after-school programs for children.

“I like working with kids. It’s also personal time that I can take to spend with my own children [volunteering] for eight hours,” said Stevens.

Stevens said that every New Balance associate is given eight hours of personal time a year, and she chooses to use it as her volunteer time.

“New Balance pays us to volunteer,” she said. “And we go to many different places.”

According to Arsenault, the company has partnered with a number of volunteer programs, including after-school programs, community walks, and “The Home for Little Wanderers,” a nationally renowned, private, non-profit child and family service agency.

“We allow our associates to get engaged in the business,” he said. “We are always coming up with ideas to make improvements, and have done so for many years.”

Stevens said that her favorite part of the job is being a team leader.

According to Stevens, the team leader is responsible for making sure the team is doing its job safely and efficiently. Each of 18 teams have a goal to produce 540 pairs of shoes per day, which Stevens said is partially dependent on the team leader’s ability to direct and encourage.

“I work in a bunch of different departments,” said Stevens, “But I really like being the team leader.”

Along with great pay, great benefits, and rewarding job duties, Stevens said she really enjoys the people she works with and the fact that the company allows her to keep growing.

“It almost feels like family here,” she said. “I have a lot of opportunities.”

Because New Balance is continually striving to succeed in all departments, Arsenault said that the company has definitely earned its place.

“We are a company that continually gives to the associates and the community,” he said, “and at the same time our associates have a great amount of pride.”

According to Arsenault, the 2011 program looks for companies that “exceed the typical norms.”

“We are always looking to improve ourselves and our business,” he said, “and I believe this mindset has really allowed us to succeed.”

Each of the 40 companies will find out how it ranked at an awards banquet on October 11 at the Ramada Conference Center in Lewiston.

 Photo: Kayla Collins

INSPECTING SHOES —Tracie Stevens, a Manufacturing Associate at New Balance in Norway holds up a shoe. She sorts through boxes to inspect the quality of each shoe before it can be placed on shelves for sale.