People new to the idea often view employee ownership as a kind of corporate crunchy granola, nice for a hip Los Angeles bakery or a knitting-supplies company in Vermont, but not appropriate for “real” businesses. They miss the fact that sizable employee-owned companies can be found in a wide variety of industries and in every region of the country. Unlike most US companies, these ones share the wealth. Unlike many, they create great workplaces. But they are nonetheless squarely in the mainstream of American economic life.
Take an armchair excursion into NCEO’s latest list of the nation’s 100 largest employee-owned companies, for example, and you see at a glance how widely applicable the concept is.
Begin the tour in the south. There you’ll find companies like Georgia-based Farmers Home Furniture, 220 stores and more than 1,700 employees, and Louisiana’s Acadian Ambulance, with six divisions and 4,000 employees. And of course there’s giant Publix Super Markets (nearly 1,200 stores and more than 190,000 employees), which operates in Florida and other southeastern states.
Up north, you might come across Thrifty White Pharmacy, with 1,800 employees and 96 locations in Minnesota and environs—”committed to providing healthcare to small towns and cities in the rural midwest.” Or maybe Washington-based EmpRes Healthcare Management (10,000 employees), which offers “skilled nursing, assisted living, home health, hospice, and home care services in 7 states across the western United States.”
In the east you could discover companies such as New York’s Cooperative Home Care Associates (2,000 employees) and KPH Healthcare Services (3,860), also in New York. In the west you’d see the likes of WinCo Foods (20,000), the Idaho-based supermarket chain, and Armstrong Garden Centers (1,500), in southern California.
All the companies just mentioned happen to be in retailing or healthcare, two significant categories for employee ownership. But there are equally large numbers of manufacturers, engineering firms, and other service companies on the list.
Take Amsted Industries, headquartered in Chicago, with 18,000 employees in about 50 facilities, spread over 11 countries. Amsted makes industrial components for the railroad, vehicular, and construction and building markets. Forbes has named it one of the best large employers in the nation.
Other big manufacturers include W.L. Gore & Associates (9.600 employees), Krueger International (3,000) and Challenge Manufacturing Co. (3,000). Among the engineering firms are such well-known names as Parsons (14,000), Black & Veatch (10,420), and HDR Inc. (10,000).
To make the list, a company must be at least 50% employee owned. Publix is ranked #1; tied for #99 and #100 are FBG Service Corp., a Nebraska company that provides facilities maintenance, and Michigan-based manufacturer Royal Technologies, each with 1,250 employees.
Employee-owned companies still account for a small fraction of the US economy. But they’re everywhere you look, and most are thriving. Don’t let anybody tell you that they’re only for the granola-and-granny-glasses set.