Cincinnati-based Messer Construction pushes employee ownership bill

When the last son of their company’s founder died in 1988, the 99 employees of the Cincinnati-based Messer Construction found themselves facing frightening job uncertainty.

So the company’s employees ultimately took over the corporation, using a structure that allowed them to be the stock owners of the company.

On Wednesday, the chairman emeritus of that company told a congressional panel that Congress should expand and encourage small businesses to create such partnerships with their employees.

Today, Messer has nine regional offices, including Dayton. It performs more than a billion dollars in construction annually, including the recently completed Wright State University Neuroscience Engineering Collaboration Building. Had they not become employee owned, said Peter Strange, chairman emeritus, the company “would not exist and probably not be housed in Cincinnati.”

On Wednesday, Strange testified on behalf of a bill before the House Small Business Committee that would expand private employee ownership, providing incentives to owners of existing S corporations to sell their stocks to create an employee-stocked ownership program; encouraging banks to lend to such companies and providing assistance to such would-be companies. Among the bill’s cosponsors are Reps. Pat Tiberi, R-Genoa Township, Joyce Beatty, D-Jefferson Township and Jim Renacci, R-Wadsworth.

House Small Business Committee Chairman Steve Chabot, R-Cincinnati, said such companies have been bright spots in the economy.

“Our economy works best when America’s entrepreneurs are free to make their own decisions, take their own risks and run their businesses as they see fit – free from government interference,” Chabot said. “That is exactly what employee stock ownership programs – or ESOPS – do.”

Jay Hardy, president of Hardy Diagnostics, a laboratory company that became fully employee owned last year, said his company has grown by 78 percent since then. “The numbers speak for themselves,” he said.

The company has a manufacturing presence in Warren County.

“We hear a lot of talk about income inequality and capitalism being good only for the privileged one percent,” he said. “Why can’t capitalism be accessible for all American workers by owning a portion of the companies that they work for.”

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