In early May, Gov. Janet Mills signed an executive order to improve the recruitment, training and retention of women in Maine’s construction industry.

The order is an important step, especially when considering that women currently make up 15% of Maine’s construction industry – and only 11% of the industry nationally. But the order stopped short when it came to underscoring another key opportunity for women in the construction industry.

This industry offers a bridge to economic opportunity, far outpacing others when it comes to employee ownership.

Research shows us that there are three economic sectors that account for nearly half of all employee-owned companies nationally (48.7% combined): manufacturing, professional services and construction. That same research also shows that Maine is one of the top states for employee ownership.

In the 40 years since Wright-Ryan was established, and in eight years since becoming a 100% employee-owned company, Wright-Ryan has grown to more than 100 employee owners. Female team members represent 15% of Wright-Ryan’s total workforce, which surpasses the national average, and 45% of women at Wright-Ryan serve in senior leadership positions. We continuously work to create and support opportunities for women, which is fundamental to fostering diversity as well as the next generation of leaders.

One of those opportunities was fully realized in 2016, the year we completed our transition to full employee-ownership. Our employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) automatically provided all employee owners with a new retirement benefit in addition to the company’s existing, employer-matched 401(k). To us, an ESOP was – and is – an opportunity to think about more than just the sustainability and longevity of Wright-Ryan. It gives us a chance to secure the future of the construction industry in our region and state, ensuring that it remains a viable option to all talented, next-generation builders.


A recent Maine Policy Review article, “How to Save Jobs and Build Back Better: Employee Ownership Transitions as a Key to an Equitable Economic Recovery,” notes that businesses owned by their workers “are a model for how an economy, even in the face of unprecedented threats, can be made to work for working people and their communities.”

In 2019, the Rutgers Institute conducted a first-of-its-kind national study, which revealed that ESOPs enabled participating families to significantly increase their assets, shrinking stubborn gender wealth gaps and racial wealth gaps. Employees who have the opportunity to share in the capital built through their labor have greater wealth.

Strong leadership and collaboration are vital to the success of any organization, but our industry’s future success hinges on our unwavering commitment to our people. When we talk about the growing need for new candidates in the trades and the construction industry overall, we need to recognize that the ESOP is a differentiator in any strategy to support our industry as well as recruit and retain a new generation of talented and diverse builders.

At Wright-Ryan, we plan to continue to invest in our team’s growth, provide opportunities for advancement and foster a culture of continuous learning and development. The talent, dedication and expertise of our men and women employee-owners has been the driving force behind our company’s success and will continue to be.

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