Federal grant encourages employee-owned businesses

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(Host) Representatives of worker-owned businesses lined up with Congressman Bernie Sanders on Monday to promote employee ownership. Sanders’ office recently secured a $97,000 grant to help workers buy their companies through cooperatives or employee stock ownership plans.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) About 40 companies in Vermont are at least partially owned by their employees. Around the country, about 11,000 companies country have employee stock option plans.

Congressman Sanders says worker-owned companies are much less likely to lay off people or move operations off-shore.

(Sanders) “When there is so much job anxiety out there, when people are really afraid that their job is going to go to China or some place else, they’re going to lose their benefits, this becomes not a cure-all, but an attractive model. And once again, I think you’ll find a lot of employers in the state of Vermont who have spent decades building their business, they’re about to retire and they want to look at the option that the people who worked with them will benefit. They’re not giving it away, they’re selling it. They’re selling it. Would they prefer to sell it to the people with whom they worked, or some out of state person whom they’ve never met and they don’t have confidence in?”

(Host) Susan Reid is the newsletter editor at King Author Flour, a company that is now 90 percent owned by its employees. She says employee-ownership creates a more inclusive kind of corporate culture.

(Reid) “It’s about sitting together in what we call town meeting. We have open book management. Everybody knows what the numbers are. Everybody knows if we’re doing well or poorly. If we’re doing poorly, it’s a challenge and it’s taken as an opportunity: how do we address this challenge? How do we, within our structure, address our needs? That didn’t happen in a hierarchical situation.”

(Host) Jeff Spencer is lead carpenter with Red House Incorporated, a worker owned cooperative in Chittenden County. He and his colleagues turned to the Vermont Employee Ownership Center when they wanted to convert a company that had been owned by one person into a cooperative.

(Spencer) “It’s been a tremendous success for us. We’ve grown from five people to 16 over the last year, and we’ve almost tripled our revenues.”

(Dillon) The grant money obtained by Sanders office will be used by the Vermont Employee Ownership Center to provide expertise and help workers obtain financing to transform their companies.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Burlington.

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