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TWIN FALLS — When Isaac Norstad got his statement in May, he was surprised — to say the least.

He’s had part ownership in Clif Bar since a year after he started with the company. But now, he was fully vested and able to get a glimpse of what that ownership was worth. The value on his ownership statement was significantly more than he’d expected.

“I’d always heard the stories that, ‘Hey, you’ll be really surprised when you get this,’” said Norstad, the food safety and quality assurance manager at Clif Bar’s Twin Falls bakery. “And then when I saw mine, I was like ‘Wow!’ It’s definitely a very nice program.”

Norstad is one of 243 Twin Falls employees who now have ownership in Clif Bar Baking Co. While more employees are quickly approaching their one-year anniversaries with the company, those who stayed around a little longer have received — or will soon receive — their first statements.

“It’s really a milestone for us because two-thirds of our employees are in the program now,” General Manager Dale Ducommun told the Times-News on Tuesday.

Clif Bar employs 293 people at its Twin Falls bakery. The company rolled out its Employee Stock Ownership Plan in 2010, but the local bakery has been up and running for only about 20 months. Altogether, Clif Bar — a privately held company — is 20 percent owned by its employees.

Some workers, such as Norstad, have already hit three years with the company, based on a formula and their hire date. Norstad, 39, was hired in April 2015 when “we were just getting ready to break ground” in Twin Falls. He spent two months at the corporate office in Emeryville, Calif., before working in a temporary office here.

Sitting at his desk in a sunlit room at the completed bakery Tuesday, he could definitely see the worth in making Clif Bar his long-term future.

“Typically you’d have 25 years of work left at my age,” Norstad said. “Now I’m looking at how much earlier could I retire because of Clif Bar. You could potentially retire 5-10 years earlier, depending on when you go into the ESOP program.”

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Here’s how Clif Bar’s ownership program works: Twelve months after an employee is hired — or after he or she has clocked in 1,000 hours — the employee enters Clif Bar’s stock ownership plan. But there’s a catch: If the employee leaves before working three years for the company, he or she won’t get any of that money.

After three years, employees become vested, meaning that whenever they retire or leave the company, they have three years to sell their ownership back to the company. The longer they’ve worked for Clif Bar, and presuming the company has grown, the higher that payout is.

The ownership then goes back into the pool for those who still work there. Clif Bar reassesses its value annually.

“The piece I don’t think people anticipate is that your money grows as the company grows,” Ducommun said. “They gift you stock every year, so the longer you’re with the company, the more stock you get.”

The stock comes on top of Clif Bar’s company-matched 401K retirement plan. The extra money can boost employees’ retirement funds, or let them retire sooner.

And it also gives them more of a share in the success of the company, Ducommun said.

“It does affect your decision-making because you want to make decisions that are going to be good long-term,” he said. “Across the company, it kind of impacts how they make decisions.”

Norstad has more incentive to assure the quality of bars that are shipped out — and he said he spends more time than he otherwise might have on coaching other employees.

“It makes it more like you’re working for each other,” Ducommun said.

In May, 187 Twin Falls employees will have hit three years with the company and will begin receiving annual statements that shows the amount and value of their stock.

“It’s an amazing opportunity for people that are just starting out their careers,” Norstad said. “It’s a supplement to my normal retirement planning.”

The 50 employees who don’t have ownership yet were mostly hired in early 2017, when Clif Bar put its third line into production, Ducommun said. They’ll get ownership this year, and the perks will probably be enough to keep many of them with the company — at least until they become vested at three years.

But Norstad plans to stay for the long haul.

“It’d have to be a pretty big job promotion to leave Clif Bar,” he said.

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