Darrell Hefley, president of the Jorgensen Co., poses far left with some of the 130 employees of the company, which celebrated its 85th anniversary this year. Photo by Donald A. Promnitz
Written by Donald A. Promnitz
A Fresno business that began during the Great Depression and grew into a major Valley distributor of safety equipment is marking its 85th anniversary this year.
It began humbly, when H.P. Jorgensen opened his small business in 1932 — the H.P. Jorgensen Co. — filling fire extinguishers on Downtown Fresno’s Broadway Street.
“And since then, we’ve continued to grow,” said Darrell Hefley, president of the Jorgensen Co., which dropped “H.P.” from its name after his sons took over. “We’ve increased our market share in the areas we have.”
The company’s leadership was transferred to the founder’s sons, Al and Don Jorgensen, and they branched the business out beyond extinguishers to other aspects of fire prevention and general safety.
Over time, the company also grew in territory, establishing offices across the Valley in Rancho Cordova, Modesto, Merced, Visalia and Bakersfield, staffed by more than 130 employees.
Some of the services they provide are geared to specific local needs. The Bakersfield office, for example, provides safety equipment to oil companies, while also supplying and servicing agricultural businesses in Fresno County.
Today, Jorgensen’s primary clients are manufacturing sites and retail businesses, along with municipalities, school districts, apartments and restaurants.
Since October, Jorgensen has been operating from its new location at 2467 Foundry Park Ave. just south of downtown. The 28,000-square-foot building is more than twice the size of its previous headquarters at 2691 S. East Ave.
Starting in 1994, Jorgensen underwent the process of becoming an employee-owned company, entering into an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP). That process was completed between 2004 and 2005, when ownership was transferred to the employees. Hefley said this was done, at least in part, because the children of the Jorgensen brothers took other career paths. Selling the company to the employees, Hefley said, was a way to keep the business within the family, if not by blood, then by the people who have been loyal employees for years.
Hefley attributes the high regard Jorgensen Co. places on its employees to his own success there, as he started out working in the warehouse in 1970 and advanced over the years to eventually run the business.
“Employee ownership definitely allowed the path for me to progress to where I am,” he said.
The primary function of the employee stock program is as a retirement plan, with employees earning stock in the company on day one of employment and becoming vested later.
After seven years, employees become full shareholders, and when they retire the company buys back their shares.
All of this has had a positive effect on overall job performance among the employees at Jorgensen Co., as “They contribute to that by making the company profitable, so that’s where the employee-ownership mentality culture comes into play,” Hefley said.
“Because if they conduct themselves while they’re on the job as an employee-owner and do their job, or perform their job in that fashion, then the concept is, of course, that the company will be more profitable, the stock values will go up over the years because of that profitability and it will benefit them because it will allow them to have a larger retirement fund.”
“I try and go over this with employees, my employees, new employees,” said Fresno warehouse manager Pat Fonseca, “because this is a great opportunity for them, for their future, which a lot of new and young people don’t realize. Just trying to explain to them and try to help them visualize what they can look forward to years on down the road.”