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Documentary highlights employee ownership at Durango firm

CEO Kerry Siggins talks with Kristi Gerhardt, an international shipping specialist at StoneAge, at the company’s shipping location in Animas Airpark. StoneAge is among several companies featured in a new documentary about employee ownership. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)
StoneAge has had employee stock ownership plan for decades

A Durango company is among those featured in a documentary about employee ownership that will premiere Thursday.

StoneAge, a maker of water-blasting cleaning tools, is featured alongside Community Language Cooperative, Dojo4, Palmer Flowers and Merrick & Co. in “Own It: A Colorado Story,” a 26-minute film developed by the Colorado Employee Ownership Office and the Colorado Office of Film, Television and Media.

“The Colorado Employee Ownership Office is working to raise the conversation around employee ownership in Colorado,” said Nikki Maloney, employee ownership grant and operations manager with the Employee Ownership Office. “Nationally, the conversation tends to focus exclusively on employee stock ownership plans, or ESOPs, or cooperatives, and our office is trying to broaden the options that business owners are aware of.”

She said the documentary identifies five businesses around the state of varying sizes and industries that are using different styles of employee ownership.

“Our hope is that business owners may see a similarity with their own business and will consider this as a possible succession-planning option,” she said.

StoneAge founders John Wogamott and Jerry Zink began offering profit sharing in the early 1990s, setting aside 10% of profits to provide as cash bonuses to employees. Its ESOP was created in 1998 when Wogamott and Zink decide to sell stock to the management team. In 2019, CEO Kerry Siggins told The Durango Herald that StoneAge will become 100% ESOP-owned in the next 10 to 15 years.

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“We wanted to highlight them because they’re an international corporation that’s operating in a more rural part of our state,” Maloney said. “It shows how jobs can be maintained in a community and how they can have international reach.”

The other businesses featured in the documentary are mostly on the Front Range and include an engineering firm, tech company and a flower shop with multiple locations.

“There’s a consistent theme in employee-owned companies – you see happy people, more engaged employee-owners, a higher quality of life and a positive company culture that people want to be a part of,” she said.

Maloney said employee ownership will become increasingly important as a significant number of Colorado business owners reach retirement age.

“Many business owners first consider that they will sell their business to an outside party, but in reality only a small percentage find a willing buyer,” she said. “And so we’re trying to spread the word about the benefits of considering their employees as a group to purchase the firm, to secure the legacy of their business through their existing employees.”

The Employee Ownership Office will host a virtual watch party for the documentary at 7:20 p.m. Thursday for partners, featured businesses and others interested in employee ownership. The event is free and open to the public.

Viewers may watch on cable on PBS 12, via streaming on the PBS 12 website or via the Office of Economic Development and International Trade’s YouTube page, where it will be made available and offered on-demand for future viewing and sharing.

After the premiere, Gov. Jared Polis will join the watch party to share his experience with employee ownership and why it is among his top initiatives for the state. There will then be a 60-minute employee-ownership panel discussion featuring Siggins, Justin Lewis with GritHouse Films, Glenn Plagens with OEDIT, Corey Kohn with Dojo4 and Tim Jordan with Palmer Flowers.

ngonzales@durangoherald.com

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