BELLOWS FALLS -- U.S. Rep. Peter Welch met with the president of Sonnax Industries on Monday to follow up on a meeting held a few years ago and tour the facilities of a company he called a great model for other enterprises.
Welch, D-Vt., arrived at Sonnax around 10:30 a.m. and walked through company's main building with Tommy A. Harmon, who also serves as CEO. Harmon brought the congressman through the manufacturing areas and the quality control room of the 50,000-square-foot facility before driving him and a staff member to Sonnax's other building about one minute down Route 5 and giving a brief tour there.
Welch praised what he saw and said he decided to stop by because Sonnax -- an employee-owned business that creates high-precision parts for the automotive aftermarket -- has proven to be a wonderful successful story.
"This is a company that makes parts for automobiles and even in the downturn of the auto industry in 2008 this company did real well. Why? One, it had a real commitment to research and development and created a good product," he said after his tour. "Two, it has fabulous workers and a good engineering department and, three, they have just created an employee-owned company.
"This is 100 percent employee-owned and the morale here and the talent here is tremendous," he continued. "There are a lot of good jobs for Vermont at this company and that's essential to our economy."
Welch walked through the manufacturing area, passing multiple workers operating forklifts, before Harmon brought him to the quality control room, where one of the three workers in the room referred to himself and his colleagues as "the incoming police," meaning they monitor all incoming goods and materials.
Harmon then drove the congressman to the other Sonnax building, a 35,000-square-foot facility that he said used to be a Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream factory. He introduced Welch to some of the employees and showed him the work being done on the manufacturing of automotive parts.
After that, the tour returned to the main facility, where Welch spoke with Stephen Jaussaud, vice president of sales, before leaving.
Harmon, who has been with Sonnax since 1996, said Welch was following up on a similar meeting a few years ago and the congressman reached out to him for Monday's tour.
"He's very interested in what we're doing. I think he was pleasantly surprised with what he saw," he said. "All in all, it was a very cordial visit. I loved having him here."
Welch said Sonnax is an example of how prosperous and successful a company can be while still respecting its workers.
"One of the things that's a real challenge right now is that corporate profits in this country are at a record high but wages are flat and retirement security is declining. And this employee-ownership model gives the employees a real stake in productivity gains," he said. "They are the owners and the workers, so when they get more efficient and, therefore, can do more with less, they actually get to share in the benefit of that -- not just see it all taken over by a few people who are the owners."
Welch then left Sonnax for a groundbreaking ceremony at King Arthur Flour, which he said is also an employee-owned company, in Hartford. He said he heads back to Washington, D.C., on Wednesday.
Domenic Poli can be reached at email@example.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.