Montgomery Answers The Call


    CALEDONIA — Patrick L. Montgomery chuckles when asked how someone with two degrees in telecommunications wound up founding a temporary services firm that now largely offers professional employer organization services.

    Basically, he said, he emerged from college to bounce around for a few years in the cable TV industry here in Grand Rapids. At one time or another he worked with MCI, United Artists and AT&T.

    Then he got a call from Linda Postema, at that time the local franchise owner of TRC Temporary Service, for whom he had previously worked in sales. She had a job offer for him.

    “I’d guess you’d say this was my big career break,” he told the Business Journal. “I had enjoyed the work and I found it interesting.

    “And in 1992, I ended up buying the franchise from her. But after about a year we split. The market here was basically light industrial and that company was basically interested in secretarial and clerical workers.”

    That same year, he founded People First with offices in Rockford. “It was basically a staffing company, but we got an account that year — a larger firm — that wanted what then was called employee leasing.”

    Montgomery told the Business Journal he found it to be an interesting arrangement.

    “What it did was enable us to enhance the clients. And, really, it was kind of like having two sets of clients: the firm and the employees who worked for them through us.

    “Well, then about ’97 and ’98, we really started to focus on the PEO markets.

    “And for small firms it’s a big help. We take care of all the paperwork you’ve got in employing people — and there’s more paperwork and regulations all the time — so that the owners of those companies can spend more of their time focused doing what they do best.”

    He explained that People First eventually turned into Employment Traditions and moved to its present site in Caledonia. And it now is the employer of record for more than 1,300 workers who earn their livings in about 150 area companies. “It’s been quite a transition for us,” he said. “As of now about 95 percent of our work is PEO business, and 5 percent is temporary staffing.”

    Most of his firm’s client companies, he said, need 20 to 25 workers. “And the great thing is that if they need more help, we have a pool of quality applicants, so there’s usually no recruiting problem for them or us.”

    Montgomery explained that Employment Traditions conducts the training required for work in the clients’ shops.

    But while the client indirectly pays the expense of training newly hired workers, Montgomery points out that the client’s officers needn’t divert several days from their own managerial tasks to accomplish that training.

    He also stressed that one should not look upon a PEO as some kind of temp service. “Some of the workers with our clients have been with us for years,” he said.

    Counting himself, Employment Traditions has a staff of 17, which, he adds, relies heavily on specialized software for doing everything from payroll to benefit administration. The firm also guards the Internet’s specialized Web sites having to do with state and federal regulatory machinations.

    “The thing we’re really keeping an eye on now is ADA — the Americans With Disabilities Act. It’s presenting some challenges to companies. But the thing is that we can keep up with it for our clients so they can keep up on their work.”

    He noted that Employment Traditions also maintains the mandatory job descriptions, training and safety paper trails for each worker.

    “We have two people on staff who do nothing but make sure all the material is there for MIOSHA and DOT. And if someone sues the client, we don’t get involved directly in the litigation, but we have everything for them that they need in the way of documentation.

    “It’s just part of the way in which a PEO takes a load off of a client.”

    And he said that thanks to the productivity which computers make possible, his staff has the capacity to expand its workload significantly before it’s necessary for him to bring aboard more help.

    He explained that when a firm opts to purchase Employment Traditions’ PEO services, it takes about a week to complete the transaction.

    The PEO becomes the employer of record, but the employees notice nothing different. They receive the same benefits and pay, but instead of having to deal with a harried manager on HR matters, it’s a case of contacting a specialist at the Caledonia office.

    Because of his 10-year-old son’s interest in sports, Montgomery has been spending some of his spare time as a soccer coach. The lad, named Shane, is playing football this autumn, but Montgomery is sticking with soccer coaching because his 6-year-old daughter, Lindsey, now is taking up the sport.

    Montgomery also has been working in Junior Achievement’s elementary school program.

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