The move to advance employee ownership is gaining momentum. As employee-owned businesses have grown steadily over the last decade, demographic trends and a surge of interest in a more equitable economy have helped put these business structures on the national agenda.
One key factor is a phenomenon known as the ‘silver tsunami.’ An unprecedented number of small business-owning baby boomers are going to be retiring over the next couple of decades, and many of them don’t have succession plans. To avoid the potential closure or displacement of the 2.34 million boomer-owned business which are at risk, cities, states, and even Congress have begun exploring the option of employee-ownership as a solution.
“Within the next 20 years we’re going to see a massive turnover of business assets in this country due to baby boomer retirements — something like $10 trillion,” Zen Trenholm of the Democracy At Work Institute told Shareable. “That’s why we’re seeing so much action both at the federal level and now much more significantly at the local level.”
The Democracy at Work Institute (DAWI) has played a key advocacy and advising role in many of the efforts to advance employee ownership on both the local and national level. For example, just last year the Main Street Employee Ownership Act was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Gillibrand (D-NY) and passed with bipartisan support. The law is intended to level the playing field between traditional firms and employee-owned businesses by making it easier for the latter to secure loans and capital — currently a significant barrier to the creation of more co-ops.
The legislation will improve access to capital and technical assistance for employee-owned businesses by financing the sale of businesses to their employees and by working with Small Business Development Centers across the nation to provide educational and training resources.
Another example of employee-ownership policy going mainstream came last month when Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) re-introduced two pieces of legislation to Congress that focus on strengthening and growing the employee-ownership and worker cooperative sectors across the country.