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Poet promoting healthy living

Sioux Falls-based ethanol producer Poet is attempting to tap into another source of energy: its employees. "This isn't anything that we have to do," said Poet's Wellness Coordinator Brandan Fokken. "We're not being made to do it. It's something w...

Bjorn Krause, a lab tech with POET, demonstrates the free weights in POET's new "energy center" at the Loomis facility. POET has begun launching new "energy centers" in all of their locations to provide a place for its employees as they encourage healthier lifestyles. (Matt Gade/Republic)
Bjorn Krause, a lab tech with POET, demonstrates the free weights in POET's new "energy center" at the Loomis facility. POET has begun launching new "energy centers" in all of their locations to provide a place for its employees as they encourage healthier lifestyles. (Matt Gade/Republic)
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Sioux Falls-based ethanol producer Poet is attempting to tap into another source of energy: its employees.

"This isn't anything that we have to do," said Poet's Wellness Coordinator Brandan Fokken. "We're not being made to do it. It's something we're doing for the health of the people that work for us."

Fokken was talking about new "energy centers" being constructed at each of the 27 Poet facilities around the region. As part of Poet's health and wellness initiative called Energy for Life, the centers are designed to provide a free and convenient space for Poet employees to exercise.

Every center is being constructed based upon each facility's needs and available space and will include a variety of workout equipment purchased from Life Fitness, from dumbbells to cardio equipment to an all-in-one workout machine. Fokken said each gym costs between $14,000 and $18,000.

Fokken said he expects all the energy centers to be complete in 2016, but a handful of locations have already opened the new weight rooms for employees.

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"We've had quite a few open in the fall, and the ones that are going to be waiting are the ones that had to build for space," Fokken said.

The Mitchell facility was one of the first to open an energy center for use, according to Becky Pitz, general manager for Poet in Mitchell.

"We have some finishing touches left to do, but it's been received very well by the employees," Pitz said.

The Mitchell energy center, located in the office building's partially unused basement, has a treadmill, stationary bike, row machine, dumbbells and an all-in-one machine, and, according to Pitz, can comfortably hold about six employees at a time.

Pitz said because the plant is a 24-hour facility, the 43 employees may find it difficult to get to a gym. She said the energy center gives them a place to work out before or after work or during a break.

"They don't have to pay anything to use it, and it's about convenience for them," Pitz said. "There's a wide variety downstairs, so you're not lacking in anything a big gym would have. It has all the essentials."

Laboratory Technician Bjorn Krause has already started using the new room. He said it's nice to have equipment that isn't available at his apartment building.

"It's really just a pleasant surprise," Krause said. "It's normally something a company wouldn't do, but it's an extra touch that was nice."

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Krause said the new center inspired him to start working out again over the past two and half months, but he usually exercises with his kids at home.

Still, Krause said he makes use of the energy center about once a week after work.

"It's a good overall amount of equipment," Krause said.

Poet's health and wellness initiative expands beyond energy centers. Pitz said corporate Wellness Director Melissa Ellefson sends daily nutritional tips, weekly fitness challenges and weekly healthy recipes, which can promote healthier lifestyles for both employees and their families. On-site health screenings, one-on-one consultations and workout plans are also available.

The first energy center was opened in the Sioux Falls office in 2011 or 2012, Pitz said. After a positive response, Poet officials decided to create similar spaces in every facility.

"It's refreshing to see that they care about the wellbeing of the team members," Pitz said.

Fokken said Poet employs 3,500 people, with an average of about 60 per ethanol plant. He said there is no proposal to open new facilities, but if another is eventually created, an energy center will likely be part of the plan.

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