As political leaders in Washington debate President Bush's call to create an ``ownership society,'' advocates say it's a good time to raise the profile of employee ownership of businesses.
Employee stock ownership plans still don't get much attention, however. ``This debate on the national level is not defining ownership to include ESOPs,'' said Michael Keeling, president of the ESOP Association in Washington.
Keeling gave the keynote speech to the Ohio Employee Ownership Conference April 15 in Fairlawn, an Akron suburb. The one-day conference drew 325 people, including five from Dimco-Gray Co., an injection molder of knobs and handles in Centerville, Ohio. Dimco-Gray formed a 100 percent ESOP in 1986.
The plastics industry has a few other ESOPs, including Nypro Inc. of Clinton, Mass., and Kam Plastics in Holland, Mich.
The Bush administration wants people to set up personal accounts for a portion of their Social Security, set up individual health-care accounts and foster home ownership. Keeling said he agrees with those goals - but he is frustrated because leaders of both parties, Republican and Democrat, never seem to mention employee ownership.
The ESOP Association has nothing against more stock ownership, Keeling said, noting that under Bush's Society Security program, people would use index funds. But he said stock-fund ownership is not the same as an employee-owned business. Stock investors have no direct connection to the holdings in an index fund, and they have no direct influence over it.
John Logue, director of the Ohio Employee Ownership Center at Kent State University, which sponsored the conference, said the worker-owned issue needs to be part of Bush's ownership society. He said the slogan goes to the heart of the history of America, which was well-suited to become a democracy because farmers owned their farms and merchants owned their shops.
Ohio is hurting, having lost 200,000 manufacturing jobs since 2000, Logue said. Household income has declined, as most new jobs are being created in lower-paying sectors, such as retail.
But Ohio's 400-plus employee-owned companies have done well, Logue said. He said employee ownership offers better pay, generates higher profit and provides more-secure retirement incomes than nonemployee-owned companies.
* Anchor jobs and capital to a local area.
* Generate a higher multiplier than companies owned by out-of-towners. ``Their dollars stay in the community,'' he said.
* Are less likely to lay off workers.
``Employee-owned companies are building a better economy in Ohio today, an economy with broader ownership, better wages and benefits,'' Logue said. He said employee ownership ``is right up there with home ownership and the family farm as a cornerstone, bedrock foundation of local-community economics.''