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Pioneer Editorial: Applause for employee ownership

It’s been quite festive at First National Bank Bemidji this week as the company’s owners have been celebrating ESOP month with a rodeo theme complete with costumes, games and food.

ESOP stands for Employee Stock Ownership Plan. First National is one of several ESOP businesses in the Bemidji area. The bank has been employee owned for 28 years.

Other businesses in the area with significant employee ownership are Anderson Fabrics in Blackduck, North Country Business Products, Bemidji Aviation and Lueken’s Village Foods.

"Economically (and) financially speaking, if an important goal of our economy is to benefit the ‘middle class,’ ownership of businesses is a very important tool to help achieve that goal," said Paul Welle, whose family purchased First National Bank in 1945. "Our current economy is rewarding ownership over job/salary increases as the job market is still slow. The 9,000 employee-owned companies that have some degree of success are benefiting the owners."

We applaud and appreciate these innovative businesses and other locally owned companies that are the lifeblood of a growing regional center like Bemidji. They are typically the first ones to step up when called upon for contributions of dollars and talents.