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People power
People power
South Mountain Company
Martha's Vineyard

In a matter of months, South Mountain Co., a design and construction firm based on the Massachusetts island of Martha's Vineyard, saw its two-year backlog of projects shrink to a mere six months' worth of work.

"For the first time we had to consider what happens if there isn't enough work," says John Abrams, founder of the $9 million firm, which builds energy-efficient housing.

Rather than hand out pink slips, South Mountain tried to keep its 32 employees busy, taking on small jobs it wouldn't have accepted in the past and keeping previously subcontracted work in-house. It even put staff to work on community projects that produce little or no immediate revenue.

Founded in 1975, South Mountain became a three-owner cooperative in the late 1980s. Today 17 of its employees are owners. Each worker-owner has equal voting power in bimonthly meetings. Maybe that's why a third of annual profits are distributed to everyone at the company based on the number of hours worked.

The worker-owners are generous with health benefits too: Health-care needs are covered 100%. If medical insurance won't pay for a particular treatment -- homeopathic remedies, for example -- the company will help out. When designer Derrill Bazzy adopted a son, South Mountain wrote a check that covered half the cost.

"The company is committed to making sure no employee gets in a position that could bury them," Bazzy says.

Read more about how South Mountain funds its expensive benefits.

NEXT: Strange brew

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LAST UPDATE: Jun 08 2009 | 1:39 PM ET
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