What started started ten years ago as a bait shop by Lake Monroe has become an interstate enterprise and is now officially owned by its employees.\nWorm's Way Garden Center, which sells hydroponic growing equipment and home brewing supplies, is now 30 percent owned by its employees after a stock transfer from majority owner and founder Martin Heydt. It is billing itself as the first company in its industry to be employee-owned.\nBloomington Worm's Way general manager Claude Eastridge said the employees don't actually have to pay for the stock -- rather the stock will become part of their benefits package through the employee's work equity. The stock is divided among Worm's Way's 50 full-time employees according to their percentage of the payroll. The more they're paid, the more stock they get. \n"Our employees are the real reason we continue to be so successful," Heydt said in a press release. "Their dedication to our fast-growing company is outstanding and they deserve a piece of the pie."\nEastridge said his personal portfolio, which he plans to use for his retirement, could increase in value by as much as 30 percent.\n"It's an honor for one thing that (the employees) were trusted to make some of these decisions," Eastridge said.\nSpokeswoman Michelle Sinning said the employees who stay on for five more years could expect as much as $30,000 in addition to their salaries from the stock ownership plan, provided the company continues to do well. She said Worm's Way is on solid financial ground and plans are in the works to add a 30,000 square foot office and warehouse facility in Bloomington. \nSinning used Wal-Mart as a successful example of an employee-owned business where secretaries eventually became millionaires because of their stock options.\nAmong the more well-known American companies which are employee-owned are United Airlines and Avis. According to the National Center for Employee Ownership, about ten thousand public and private American companies have Employee Stock Ownership Programs and American workers own about $213 billion dollars worth of corporate equity.\n"Our new ESOP program will supplement the existing retirement plan and renew our commitment to the future of our team," Heydt said. "We believe it's important for all our employees to know how important they are to our company's success and let them share in the profits created from their work"
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