Senator joins Ward Lumber celebration of employee ownership

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand saws a board at Ward Lumber’s headquarters in Jay Friday to celebrate the the 130-year-old, fourth-generation company’s transition to a worker-owned cooperative. (Provided photo — Gillibrand’s office)

JAY — U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand joined Ward Lumber employees on Friday in cutting a board, instead of a ribbon, to celebrate the company’s transition to a worker-owned cooperative.

This historic transaction marks the first employee ownership transition of its kind in the North Country. With locations in both Jay and Malone, the employees of Ward Lumber made history by purchasing the 130-year-old business, which will preserve more than 50 jobs and generate $15 million in annual sales.

“Ward Lumber is a 130-year-old, fourth-generation company, and I didn’t want to see our business end,” Ward Lumber CEO Jay Ward said. “We have 50 wonderful men and women I wanted to honor and continue this business for them. We need Ward Lumber to continue to serve our community.”

This transition was inspired by Gillibrand’s Main Street Employee Ownership Act. The Main Street Employee Ownership Act, which became law in 2018, supports small businesses that invest in their workers and transition to an Employee Stock Ownership Plan or a cooperative. The new law improved the Small Business Administration’s ability to help small businesses transition to employee ownership by increasing their access to capital and technical assistance.

Ward Lumber has been operating since 1890, owned by four generations of the Ward family. Ward Lumber’s journey to employee ownership began in May 2018 when Gillibrand met with local business owners and economic development leaders at an event in Saranac Lake hosted by the Adirondack North Country Association to discuss the benefits of the Main Street Employee Ownership Act.

“No one has more insight or more dedication to a company than the people who work there,” Gillibrand said. “I applaud Jay Ward and the Ward Lumber team for securing their future through employee ownership, and ANCA for their excellent work supporting innovative economic development. The Main Street Employee Ownership Act rewards workers and communities for transitioning to employee ownership — and we’ve seen it work firsthand right here with Ward Lumber. Employee-owned businesses help workers share in the success of their employer and have a strong track record of keeping jobs local and producing better pay and retirement benefits.”

There are more than 2.3 million companies, employing one in six workers nationwide, with owners who are at or near retirement, according to Gillibrand’s office. This includes an estimated 181,370 businesses in New York, which employ 1.6 million workers. As these business owners retire, local economies will experience a massive shift that could trigger the closure of small businesses and loss of jobs and investment.

Gillibrand pushed for the bipartisan Main Street Employee Ownership Act to be included as a provision in the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act. The House companion to Gillibrand’s legislation, introduced by U.S. Representative Nydia M. Velazquez, was also included as part of the House-passed version of the NDAA bill in 2018.


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