Hamilton company sees value of hiring military veterans

A company with a Hamilton presence says it is reaping the benefits of hiring military veterans for its local facility.

Synergy Flavors, a supplier of flavors and extracts for the global food and beverage industry, has a maintenance department that consists of five Navy veterans, a Marine Corps veteran and the grandson of Tuskegee Airman.

The company’s connection to the U.S. military, especially the Navy, stems from its struggle to find hard-working, reliable employees, according to Greg Bach, general manager for the company’s Hamilton-Mason Road facility.

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“We had great difficulty hiring and retaining maintenance employees in the Cincinnati area,” he said. “We were hiring and losing them, hiring and losing them. The turnover was killing us.”

Then, about three to four years ago, Synergy’s corporate recruiter turned to paying military recruiting firms to find new hires, Bach said.

“They specifically go after (people with military experience) because they have a higher degree of discipline,” Bach said. I think anything that we do in civilian life is nothing like what they had to work their (butts) off in the military.

During the hiring process of each veteran “you could just tell from a dedication, a perseverance, a work ethic standpoint, that the quality of the candidates was much greater,” he said.

Not only did the veterans turn out to be excellent employees, they also stayed for longer, so the company continued to hire from their ranks, Bach said.

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While there was nothing during their service that taught the employees anything about capturing the flavor of a natural item like cucumber, oregano, dill, coffee or tea, “it’s just the character of the people” that has been the greatest asset and brought the company “great success,” Bach said.

The veteran-laden maintenance crew supports the equipment that is used to make these flavorings that are then put into food and beverage products around the world, ranging from flavored alcoholic beverages to cold brew coffee ice creams.

“Maintenance on the ship is one of the biggest things for upkeep and it taught me how to do things the right way the first time,” said Geoff Schneider, of Hamilton, a Navy veteran. “The Navy prepared me very well for a job like this.”

David Everage, of Hamilton, said he joined the Navy to be a cook but ended up a nuclear machinist mate, learning in just over a year many of the skills he said were necessary to land a job at Synergy Flavors in 2016.

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“When I was on the boat, we worked a lot with steam … with reactors and steam generators and turbines … so coming out of there and finding a company like this that works with steam in order to produce food, it’s easy to relate to,” Everage said. “They just work with a lot safer steams than what we did in the military.”

“Now that we’re all here together, we’re kind of like a band of brothers from the Navy because we all did the same job,” Everage said. “We all know everyone’s past but we all kind of traveled different routes to get here.”

Jody Gunderson, Hamilton’s director of economic development, said it was “refreshing” to hear from Synergy Flavors officials about the hiring so many former military.

“I was happily bowled over by it because you see and you hear of stories where veterans struggle to find employment after they have come back and they’re no longer in the service … and I was just puffing my chest out that we have a company that has a record for hiring veterans as they do,” Gunderson said. “I think it’s very proactive.”

Erick Cheek, 38, of Trotwood, an 11-year-employee of the company who served in the Navy, said the recent influx of veterans is a path he encouraged the company to take because of the veterans’ experience with very relatable and much larger scale equipment.

“Transferring those large scale physics down to small-scale machines is, from past experience, it’s very easy to do (and) very short learning curves to get everything transferred over to (working) here,” he said.

Ben Newsom of Middletown, said the discipline he learned while serving in the Marine Corps is invaluable to what he can offer in the private sector.

“Everything is strategically set in place before you respond to anything,” Newsom said.

Milton Gainey, of Hamilton, an extraction operator at Synergy, served in the U.S. Army as a nuclear, biological and chemical warfare expert, and was part of Operation Desert Storm and Operation Desert Shield.

“(Having served in the military) gives me a little bit more discipline and helps me to stay calm when situations are kind of getting out of order in different places,” Gainey said. “I’m able to stay a little bit above the fray.”

Newsom said he doesn’t believe most people realize the sacrifice that veterans make just for America to have the freedom that it does.

“It’s easy to wake up every day and drink coffee or whatever not knowing the reason,” Newsom said. “A lot of people don’t know the reason why they can do that and a lot of it has to do with the military.”

Synergy Flavors mechanic Robert Still III, of Beavercreek, is the grandson of a Tuskegee Airman, the legendary black military pilots who fought in World War II.

He said his military co-workers are well trained and “represent the company and … America quite well.”

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