One local company is taking steps to improve its employees’ health — by encouraging its employees to take more steps.
A.O. Smith, which operates a water heater manufacturing plant on East Fairview Avenue in Johnson City, officially opened a walking trail on Thursday as a way to promote a healthier lifestyle for its 1,140 employees.
Work began on the 0.75-mile trail almost a year ago, said Andrew Demski, the plant’s director of operations. He said plant officials heard employees’ requests for a place to walk, and the company is also working to initiate other health-oriented activities at the Johnson City site.
“We really listened to our employees when it came to this,” Demski said. “We also give them information on nutrition, we have weight loss competitions, and we are having a health fair for employees and their families.”
He said much of the plant’s focus is on keeping its employees healthy through wellness initiatives and preventative care.
Two A.O. Smith employees who didn’t need to be convinced about the benefits of walking are Kathy Grant and Homer Miller.
Grant, who’s worked at the plant for 38 years, and Miller, for 41 years, walked daily at lunch even before the trail was built.
“We have walked for 10 years, and we usually walk in the parking lot,” Grant said at the trail’s dedication. “When they started talking about the trail, we were really excited. It’s safer, and it’s prettier.”
Miller and Grant have been using the trail since it opened to relieve stress and get some fresh air, they said.
Clara Kay, a 17-year employee, said she was shocked when a co-worker pointed out she was out of breath walking to her car one day after work.
Moved by that discovery, she began walking in the parking lot before the trail opened, and now uses the trail daily.
“Now, I don’t get out of breath,” Kay said. “And people are always asking me how much weight I have lost.”
She has lost 25 pounds since she began her walking routine, about 12 or 13 from her walks on the trail.
At the trail’s dedication Thursday, A.O. Smith also revealed the name of the walkway, the American Wellness Walkway, an entry from employee Tanya Forrester chosen from more than 300 suggestions.
The walkway is American Heart Association-designated and earned A.O. Smith a Gold Award as a Fit-Friendly Company from the AHA.