Grangeville deacon surprises workers with announcement
Deacon Ryan Uhlenkott called a meeting of his family and employees last December to make an important announcement about the future of his company. (Photo courtesy of Heather Uhlenkott)
By Gene Fadness
GRANGEVILLE -- By the time Ryan Uhlenkott began formation to discern a call to the diaconate, he was already a successful businessman.
His love for hard work goes as far back as he can remember. After he met his wife Heather in college, he was worried that a future employer might keep him from his home and family at night. So, he decided to be the employer. He started his own business, Advanced Welding. He also opened a steel business, a tire shop and even a coffee shop.
“We were blessed with growth,” he told the Idaho Catholic Register at the time of his ordination in 2019. “We now have the humble pleasure of employing in excess of 100 wonderful families that we are honored to work with.”
When he began his studies for the diaconate in 2015, his view of his work world and his faith world was that they were two different worlds. “The two were in their own categories, not necessarily crossing,” he said.
That view changed, however, when, as part of his studies for becoming a deacon, he took a class in Catholic Social Teaching from Scott Copper of Catholic Charities in Spokane.
He then began to see what he now calls “an intertwining of the two, of faith and work, of the desire and the need to help at a higher level in the business,” to the point where these two worlds come together, as now Deacon Uhlenkott puts it “full circle.”
The fifth principle of Catholic Social Teaching is the Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers: “People have a right to decent and productive work, fair wages, private property and economic initiative. The economy exists to serve people, not the other way around.”
Deacon Uhlenkott said he and Heather consistently looked for ways to give back to their employees with wage increases and incentives, but there was an “internal desire” to do even more.
So, on Dec. 2 of last year, Deacon Uhlenkott and Heather called a meeting of all their employees. More than 85 attended. “We sold Advanced Welding and Steel two days ago,” Deacon Uhlenkott said. According to an account by Lorie Palmer in
the Idaho County Free Press, a hush settled throughout the shop. And then he announced, “We sold it to you. You are the owners.” The hush suddenly became cheers, whistles and applause. Champagne and cigars for everyone.
The Uhlenkotts created an employee stock ownership plan, or an ESOP, under which the new employee-owners earn equity in the company during the time they are employed. All employees who have worked at least one year and are 21 years old qualify. The Uhlenkotts went beyond even a traditional ESOP by beginning each eligible employee’s account with two years’ worth of equity. “In most cases, this will dwarf a 401(k) plan,” Deacon Uhlenkott told the Idaho County Free Press.
The ESOP uniquely gives the employees an opportunity to meet nearly all the goals in the fifth Catholic Social Justice principle: an opportunity to work, a fair wage, private property (as part owners) and economic initiative because as the company grows so does their equity.
Advanced Welding and Steel is a family business. Back row, from left, are Amelia, Heather and Deacon Ryan Uhlenkott, Noelle, Grace, daughter Faith Roy and her husband Taylor Roy and Steel Uhlenkott. In the front, from left, are Eve, Gage and Troy Uhlenkott.(Photo courtesy of Heather Uhlenkott)
In the Idaho County Free Press article, Deacon Uhlenkott, the father of eight, does not shy away from stating that God and his family are number one in his life with the success and care of his employees coming closely thereafter. He also thanked his long-time general manager Adam Forsmann who helped him launch the company.
Deacon Uhlenkott said they had looked at selling the company about five years ago, but did not feel the timing was right. Now that he is “fully engulfed” in the diaconate, “we made the decision to go with the ESOP, not even considering the private party sale as that would conflict with the environment we want to set up at Advanced Welding and Steel,” he said.
Editor’s note: It the coming weeks, the Idaho Catholic Register will begin a series of columns by Eddie Trask of the Augustine Institute on Catholic Social Teaching called, “Made in His Image.”
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