With an unemployment rate of 2.1%, good workers are hard to find — and tragic to lose — for employers in Billings, Mont. Jeremy Freyenhagen (front) has learned to keep an eye out for good people and to build their loyalty by giving them quality projects and the “green light” to invest in self-improvement, such as classes and books. “There's such a level of trust here,” he says. “That's the only way we can grow.”

Freyenhagen invests in his employees as well. Besides providing generous benefits, he ends good years with a tool-buying splurge. “It can be hectic,” he says. “Everyone comes up with a wish list.” He recently bought his production manager a tablet computer, and he offers a $500 referral bonus to employees who find good co-workers.

Trade contractors are treated equally well — paid promptly, kept abreast of schedules, invited to the annual company party, and given advice freely. “I like to help people out,” Freyenhagen says, particularly small shops. “And it's nice to get loyalty in return.”

Business has “snowballed” in recent years, and Freyenhagen says “we're now getting referrals from people I don't even know,” including waves of empty-nesters and medical professionals moving to the area. Should business ever hit a lull, he hopes to finish remodeling the company's recently purchased office building.