Small federal contractor in Richland is state’s Employer of the Year

When Salina Savage took the stage on Nov. 17 to receive the Association of Washington Business Employer of the Year award, she was understandably excited.

It was well deserved.

If the Northwest hadn’t heard of Apogee Group LLC before it received AWB’s top honor, it soon learned about the small, woman-owned company from Richland and its nuclear nonproliferation work for the U.S. government.

Savage and her business partner, Barbara Stone, were honored at a gala at the Greater Tacoma Convention Center. Employer of the Year was the biggest of the 13 awards given.

“Against the competition that was announced, we were first surprised,” Savage said. “There were some great companies offering exceptional benefits in this category. After the surprise wore off, we were extremely humbled as this is a significant honor.

“Apogee Group, like other small companies in Washington, has weathered tough times and uncertainty over the last three years. This award for us lets us know our values as a company are the right ones for us.”

AWB said it honored Apogee for paying 100% of health care costs for employees and providing other benefits, including a retirement match, gym memberships and more. The result is low turnover.

“Owner Salina Savage goes out of her way to assist her staff during crises, allowing them to work remotely during the pandemic and personally stepping in to help when the spouse of an employee who was on vacation had a medical emergency,” it said.

AWB also honored Kennewick-based Senske Services with its Excellence in Washington Family-owned Business award.

Apogee Group provides program/project management services to the federal government, which includes logistics management and procurement.

The summary of the company’s scope of work performed in nuclear non-proliferation is design, integration, communication, construction and engineering.

The U.S. government is its only client. A sample of its projects involve border security, construction, and global installation of radiation portal monitors for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NSSA).

“Most our work is executed outside the continental United States, so we have a couple of major partners we use that provide and extend our capabilities and capacity to execute our projects in these countries,” said Raoul Mebane, Apogee’s chief operating officer.

“We have had these partners for a long time in executing our work for the government. We have successfully executed (projects) in several different countries such as Djibouti, Belarus and Ukraine. We are currently executing projects in Ukraine which are performed under an extremely difficult environment.”

Apogee does that by working with subcontractors and other companies.

“Nuclear non-proliferation is the industry in which we work, so we routinely network with partners and others to find employees,” Mebane said.

Getting started

 Savage and Stone started Apogee Group in 2016, from an approved 8(a) Mentor-Protégé Agreement between NorthStar Federal Services and Savage Logistics.

The two have known each other for 34 years.

As the majority owner, Savage performs the executive management and business development functions. Stone performs all business management and finance functions.

In 2017, Savage Logistics was rebranded to Apogee Logistics, and the company built a new building, at 1440 Battelle Blvd., in Richland.

Over the years, it’s earned a reputation as a great place to work. Mebane said that’s important. The company needs quality employees to carry out its work.

“The work we perform for the government is important and having an excellent benefit package is key to our low turnover,” Mebane said.

Apogee’s owners also wanted the employees to be able to concentrate on work and not be distracted by rising health care costs.

That philosophy, said Mebane, is one piece of Apogee’s values that allows it to attract and retain employees. And it’s something the owners have valued from the beginning.

“During the pandemic, we altered our processes and received approval to perform our process remotely,” added Mebane. “This allowed us to continuously deliver services through the pandemic.”

Now that the pandemic precautions are ending, Mebane said the company has started to migrate its employees back to the office.

“We wanted to gain back the synergies of having people in one location, solving issues,” he said. “Therefore, we fully utilize our office space and are able to leverage the infrastructure we have built to perform our OCONUS (outside the continental United States) work.”

The future

Apogee is a certified women-owned small business, which allows it to compete for certain government contracts.

“That is important the type of business we look to compete on within a government agency,” said Mebane. “The government has specific set-aside contracts for competition for small businesses or women-owned small businesses.”

Those contracts are not easy to get.

“Acquiring government contracts is extremely competitive, specifically in the small business area where Apogee Group competes,” Mebane added. “Yes, we have had several people with significant government experience, but the simple truth is it’s a lot of work. We pride ourselves on understanding client needs, crafting solutions for those needs, and competing for the business.”

Apogee has also done a good job of anticipating its employees’ needs. And that’s why the company earned the Employer of the Year award.

“We are excited each day for the challenge working in what a government environment provides,” said Savage. “There is always a new challenge daily, and our motto around the office is, ‘If it didn’t happen to us, we wouldn’t believe it.’

“At Apogee Group, we get to tackle all types of challenges with a small group of people we know and trust. That makes it all worthwhile.”

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