Ben Harrison’s PRemployer, Inc., is a family business with long-term roots in the staffing and PEO industry. One of Ben’s sisters, Becky Carter, is his business partner, and his other sister, Debbie Dobbs, is the company’s CFO.
Harrison’s career began at Personnel Resources (PR) in Dothan, Alabama, soon after Ben graduated from Florida State University in Tallahassee. This small company experience allowed him to learn about the staffing industry from the ground up.
“I started working at Personnel Resources in 1988,” Ben says. “One of the first things I did when I got to PR was to start a video production company to produce training videos for the staffing industry. I had dual roles: a one-person operation in video production and helping with sales and marketing for the company. In those days, since we only had eight employees, I did whatever had to be done each day. So, I learned how to do everything related to a staffing business.
”Just two years later, Harrison discovered the concept of employee leasing.
“I first heard about employee leasing in 1990 at a staffing conference in Orlando,” Ben recalls. “PR was a member of TempNet (an association of independent staffing businesses in the United States).In 1994, a group of TempNet members was approached by Certified Systems, Inc. (CSI), of Dallas. Several of our association members (including PR) signed up as sales agencies. This was our first real education of the PEO world. We were with CSI for four and a half years. During that time we became members of FAPEO and NAPEO. We attended PEO conferences often to learn as much as we could.”
Harrison’s study of the PEO industry paid dividends in 1999, when his company’s relationship with CSI came to an end. It was time to form his own PEO. Ben tells the story of how this transition came about:
“CSI was sold to Service Master in 1999. Service Master did not renew any contracts with any of the agencies and dissolved all relationships with the agencies. Since we had been in the staffing business since 1987, we had learned enough about workers’ compensation and employment that we started PRemployer in June 1999. (The P and the R in PRemployer is derived from Personnel Resources.) I was at a NAPEO conference in Orlando that summer and saw Mike Miller speak. After his speech I approached him and asked if he could help us get set up. He did great! He helped us get legally set up, and I still rely on Mike today.”
While PRemployer’s corporate office is located in Dothan, Alabama, Ben Harrison and his partners decided to incorporate and become licensed to operate in Florida. His reasoning was simple.
“FAPEO was setting the pace for the PEO industry,” Ben explains. “It is the protector of the PEO industry in Florida, and it is the best state PEO association in the United States; it has major influence in NAPEO. In addition, Dothan is only 10 miles from the Florida state line. We had a staffing office in Panama City at the time, and we felt like we could grow business in the Panhandle.”
Ben Harrison serves as the company’s president and chairman. Becky Carter (his sister) and Richard Guest founded Personnel Resources and are business partners and board members of PRemployer.
“I enjoy making sure that our clients get the most from our PEO team,” Ben says. “That means I spend time with our team to make sure we are going above and beyond. I enjoy seeing our staff grow and achieve. I enjoy seeing our clients grow. Most of our growth each year comes from our clients’ growth.”
Another growth stimulator has been the Affordable Care Act, which created compliance issues and increased health insurance costs for clients. Harrison says he thinks this will continue, but not at the same pace the industry has experienced during the last four years. He sees three other growth opportunities: employee retention/benefits; workforce diversity; and artificial intelligence.
“I think employee retention (which brings benefits back into the spotlight somewhat) is already a huge issue. Working with customers to solve this problem is a growth opportunity,” Ben says. “Workforce diversity is a greater opportunity than we realize. Having five or six generations working together in the same businesses creates huge marketing opportunities. People working until they are much older will be necessary, and that is a great opportunity, too. You can combine the energy of youth and the organizational ability of experienced staff to create new solutions for businesses. Finally, artificial intelligence will help us to be more competitive, more compliant and more convenient. It can fill some workforce voids. It can simplify processes.”
Sometimes the flipside of an opportunity can be a threat. Ben Harrison and his company are watchful of these.
“ACA is changing, and we are not sure if this change will become a threat,” he explains. “In addition, attracting and retaining employees was a threat the last several years and seems more so today. Clients and prospects of our PEO services are asking for help every day. As for AI, artificial intelligence should scare every business, unless you are an AI-related business. You will have to reinvest in your business every business cycle to remain relevant. So, buckle up for this one!”
Along with being a family business, PRemployer is a business that treats its team members like family.
“Mary Beth Reynolds was my first hire when I became president of our businesses in 1996,” Ben says, “and today she runs our Dothan staffing operation. She also manages a sales team that sells PEO for us.”
PRemployer gives back to the community in many ways, with every staff member participating in at least one charity and many of them serving on civic and industry boards. The company donates back-office services to the local charities Wiregrass Children’s Home and the Alfred Saliba Family Service Center. And this year included a first for Harrison, going on mission trips with his church.
“In February, I traveled to Belize to work with Shalom Mission Base, a ministry that our church built in Santa Elena. We helped deliver gift boxes in connection with Samaritan’s Purse (a nondenominational evangelical Christian organization providing spiritual and physical aid to hurting people around the world). Then, during the Memorial Day holiday, I went to Costa Rica,” Ben says. “Our church established Pastor Dave Knapp in a new church in Jaco, Costa Rica, eight years ago. The church in Costa Rica is building facilities to provide vocational training programs for the people in Jaco.”
Ben Harrison and his wife, Rhonda, have four grown children. They live on Lake Eufaula 50 miles north of Dothan, where he enjoys boating on the lake. He also has a keen interest in baseball and has coached a summer baseball club since 2006.
“The baseball club is made up of high school players who are interested in playing college baseball. We travel in the southern states playing at college venues,” Ben says. “My youngest son and some of his friends started this team (Wiregrass Indians) several years ago. We now have two age groups of 18u and 16u traveling teams. I am not sure how long this will keep going, but it is still lots of fun.”
Harrison’s next move will be to Freeport, Florida, where he graduated from high school and plans to enjoy bay fishing and boating with friends.