The Year's Most Innovative Employee-Owned Companies
Honored in Portland

Portland Skyline

Employee-owned companies have long been a source of creative business thinking. Each spring, some of the most innovative among them are recognized through the Innovations in Employee Ownership Awards, which are announced at the annual Employee Ownership Conference presented by the Beyster Institute and the National Center for Employee Ownership.

At this year’s conference in Portland, Ore. on April 24, award recipients included a solar panel installation company from Colorado, a food products company from Idaho, a home health care service provider from South Bronx, N.Y. and an engineering and environmental sciences firm from the state of Washington with offices throughout the West. The common thread which ties these very different enterprises together is that each of them is owned by its employees. Though their strategies and techniques vary, all four of this year’s winners effectively use employee ownership to foster entrepreneurship and participation among employees, resulting in strength, sustainability and success.

The 2009 Innovations in Employee Ownership Award winners are:

Namasté Solar

An innovative company in an innovative field, Namasté Solar is the leading installer of solar electric systems in Colorado. On an ongoing basis, the company offers full-time employees an opportunity to purchase shares through a restricted stock program. From its compensation system (10 salary tiers ensure that the highest salary is no more than twice the lowest) to a transparent decision-making system that combines the virtues of democracy with business efficiency, Namasté Solar offers a glimpse of what tomorrow's company may look like. Based in Boulder, Colo., Namasté was recently hosted by President Obama during the signing of the historic stimulus bill.

Litehouse, Inc.

Now in its 50th year, Litehouse Inc. is both savvy and playful, as evidenced by its sales of over $140 million and its internal communications program which makes tough-minded business lessons memorable by immersing them in a context of fun and games. Based in Sandpoint, Idaho, Litehouse makes salad dressings, dips and sauces, but the company may stand out most for its relentless pursuit of business literacy among its workforce, including an in-house re-creation of the “Love Boat” theme for educational purposes. Thirty percent of Litehouse shares are owned by an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP).

Cooperative Home Care Associates (CHCA)

This South Bronx worker-owned cooperative provides home care services throughout New York City. With 1,550 employees, CHCA is currently the nation's largest worker-owned cooperative. CHCA has worked closely with its local Service Employees International Union to create a formal labor and management committee as a strategy to involve more employees in organizational decision-making. This initiative complements CHCA’s efforts to provide home care workers with high-quality jobs characterized by above-market wages and benefits, full-time hours, opportunities for promotions and extensive training and support.

Parametrix

ESOP-owned since 1992, Parametrix is a pillar of the employee ownership community. This year, Parametrix is recognized for its internal employee ownership education program for employees, especially recent hires. Unique features of the program include its multimedia approach (participants receive an online video invitation to the training), the use of a combination of hard numbers and personal thoughts on what ownership means, and an in-depth business simulation to help employees understand the impact of their role at the company. Based in Auburn, Wash., Parametrix provides consulting services for engineering, planning and environmental sciences throughout the Western U.S.

About the Innovations in Employee Ownership Award

The Innovations in Employee Ownership Award was created in 2006 to recognize companies that have developed practices that make employee ownership a stronger and more effective business strategy. The awards are made possible by a generous grant from TEOCO, Inc., an employee-owned consulting and IT solutions company in Fairfax, Va. By recognizing companies that pioneer best practices in plan design, employee training and education, internal communications and other aspects of employee ownership, the sponsors hope that others can learn from the award winners.

Nominations for the 2010 award will be accepted starting in November. Further details and application forms will be available on the Beyster Institute Web site.

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