State Centers: Boots on the Ground

State-level centers—there are ten active ones right now, plus the Employee Ownership Expansion Network—are on the front lines of the movement for more and better employee ownership. The centers are policy advocates, sources of support and information, places where people who want to learn about employee ownership from local peers can go. So we asked center staff to tell us what they have been doing. What are their biggest challenges? What opportunities lie ahead? Among the answers are new training programs, conferences, even a cartoon video. Here, in their own words (and in alphabetical order), is what those front-liners told us.

California Center for Employee Ownership

The California Center for Employee Ownership has an established network of ESOP companies and service providers across the state. In one of the highlights of this year, we have developed a “train the trainer” presentation and have provided it to advisors who consult in business transitions. Our biggest crowd is with small business development center advisors. The aim is to make employee ownership a regular conversation with business owners. One challenge facing us is scaling up. We have intentions of hiring, and we will need to provide for that in our budget. Contact: Mitch Miller, director, [email protected].

Indiana Center for Employee Ownership

The Indiana Center for Employee Ownership launched in 2017. Our primary focus is to provide education and advocacy on employee ownership to Indiana business owners, state and federal legislators, and our Indiana business schools. Major legislative accomplishments include proclamations from Governor Holcomb and Indianapolis mayor Hogsett in support of employee ownership; working with Senator Young’s office and gaining his support for the Main Street Employment Act; and working with Indiana Senator John Crane on Indiana Senate Resolution 35. This year the center has partnered with the Democracy at Work Institute to foster conversions to democratic employee-owned companies among business owners of color and/or businesses that employ a significant number of people of color. Contact: Rick Van Doel, president and CEO, [email protected].

Massachusetts Center for Employee Ownership

The Massachusetts Center for Employee Ownership (MassCEO) was created by an act of the state legislature to help expand employee ownership and increase employee involvement. This new funding has revived the state’s previous Center for Employee Ownership, which operated from 1989 to 2008. 

Since its creation in May 2019, MassCEO has developed a strong digital presence and brand identity. This groundwork has facilitated the office’s efforts to cultivate relationships with local chambers of commerce, economic development organizations, and business owners. Through these partnerships, five businesses have already entered our employee ownership conversion pipeline. Looking forward, MassCEO will continue to develop strategic partnerships with organizations around the state and broadcast its role as a key resource for business owners interested in exploring employee ownership. MassCEO is fortunate to have received additional budget allocations from the legislature through fiscal year 2020. Having this financial future secured will allow MassCEO to focus on providing exceptional service to business owners and service providers throughout the state. Contact: Adam Vartikar, president, [email protected].

The Rutgers NJ/NY Center for Employee Ownership

The Rutgers NJ/NY Center for Employee Ownership provides technical assistance and educational resources for business owners interested in learning about employee ownership, including ESOPs, equity compensation, and worker cooperatives. Part of the Rutgers Institute for the Study of Employee Ownership and Profit Sharing, the center is led by Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations faculty and supported by Rutgers staff as well as by volunteer professionals from employee-owned companies and service providers (including the center’s advisory board), and from other educational institutions.

Current projects include planning and preparations for:

We consider our location in New Jersey and the NY/NJ metropolitan area to be a strong positive.  We are positioned within a very large area of business activity, with many potential clients whom we can assist. Contacts: Professor William Castellano, executive director, [email protected]; Jim Terez, associate director, [email protected]; Bethany Dennis, senior program coordinator, [email protected].

North Carolina Employee Ownership Center

The North Carolina Employee Ownership Center (NCEOC), formally established in May 2019, serves as the central hub for employee-owned businesses in North Carolina. Its primary mission is to educate business owners and their advisors (lawyers, bankers, accountants, wealth advisors) on the benefits of employee ownership via employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs), worker cooperatives, and employee ownership trusts (EOTs). NCEOC provides resources, case studies and articles, and a list of service providers who can assist with employee ownership transitions. NCEOC serves the entire state of North Carolina, with a particular focus on outreach to minority-owned businesses. Visit our landing page at Contact: Anne-Claire Broughton, founder and interim executive director, [email protected].

Pennsylvania Center for Employee Ownership

The Pennsylvania Center for Employee Ownership supports a model focused exclusively on raising awareness about EO in all of its forms. The past few months have been quite busy for us. Here are few of the goings-on:

1. We have just launched the Pittsburgh Citywide Task Force on Employee Ownership in partnership with the Pittsburgh city council and the mayor’s office. We believe this to be the nation’s first citywide model to actively and aggressively convert businesses to employee ownership. With the assistance of the council, we will get into the nine council districts and bring information and resources to create more and more employee owners. The task force includes senior members of council; members of the Pennsylvania state House and executive branch; university scholars and presidents, senior members of banking, business, and capital lending; NGO executives; employee ownership CEOs and EO company employees. It is our hope that this can be a model for municipalities throughout the nation.

2. This month we are launching our third and fourth radio campaigns on both NPR and commercial stations throughout the Commonwealth. These have been tremendously effective in driving people to our website to learn about the benefits of employee ownership. We are seeing close to 500 visitors a month and over 1,000 social media followers in just the past six months.

3. Thanks to the great work of the PaCEO’s Rosalie Evans, we have launched our second YouTube cartoon video. These have been both popular and helpful in sharing the message of EO. Related, we are working with one of Nike’s video producers to create an exciting, engaging, and emotional short telling the human stories of employee ownership. 

The challenge, as always, is the lack of awareness surrounding employee ownership. But the numbers suggest that the efforts of state centers are having a real effect. In 2015, the nation saw a decrease of close to 350 employee owned businesses nationwide. But in 2016, we saw an increase of over 500! Some 25 of those were in Pennsylvania, adding over 13,000 new employee owners. It takes a village. Contact: Kevin McPhillips, executive director/CEO, [email protected].

Rocky Mountain Employee Ownership Center

The Rocky Mountain Employee Ownership Center (RMEOC) has continued to build on our legislative win of 2017: the center played a leading role in the passage of HB 17-1214, which authorized creation of a statewide revolving loan fund for business conversions to employee ownership models. Since then, we have continued to advance creation of employee-owned businesses as a critical economic driver in Colorado and a way to preserve our local economies. Our work includes: training staff at the Small Business Development Centers around the state on the basics of employee ownership to create awareness and a referral pipeline for technical assistance for business conversions to employee ownership; providing direct technical assistance to businesses to convert; hosting informational webinars; presenting at conferences and workshops around the state; and promoting policy change to support employee ownership. 

This year, the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade (OEDIT) launched the Employee Ownership Network, which is housed within the department and aims to strengthen support for employee ownership. RMEOC will be a key partner with the state in rolling out a plan over the next three years to increase the number of employee-owned businesses in Colorado. Colorado governor Jared Polis also appointed a 13-member Employee Ownership Commission, including two RMEOC board members who now serve as commissioners. As awareness of employee ownership increases in Colorado, RMEOC is already experiencing an uptick in referrals for education and technical assistance and will be expanding our staff capacity in the coming year to meet demand. Contact: Amy Beres, executive director, [email protected].

Vermont Employee Ownership Center

Founded in 2001, the Vermont Employee Ownership Center turned 18 this year, and saw a few milestones and changes. Our annual conference, which brings together folks from existing employee-owned businesses with those continuing to make the transition, drew a record-breaking crowd in June, with 264 people registered, including 30 from Alliance Mechanical, our state’s newest ESOP. We also welcomed the conversion of Nutty Steph’s into Vermont’s newest worker co-op, and we brought on Michele Kupersmith as our third staffer. She has been working hard on outreach to find new opportunities for bringing employee ownership to more Vermonters.

Looking forward, we set our summer intern on the task of doing a comprehensive review of companies in Vermont that are good prospects for an ESOP or worker co-op that will help us with our future outreach strategy, and we are working hard to ensure that the expansion of employee ownership plays a key role in the variety of economic development initiatives in our state. Contact: Matt Cropp, co-executive director, [email protected].

Employee Ownership Expansion Network

We also asked for an update from the new organization dedicated to expanding the number of state centers. Here’s what executive director Steve Storkan had to say:

Having incorporated on July 4, 2018 in Philadelphia, the Employee Ownership Expansion Network (EOX) recently celebrated its first official year as an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization whose sole mission is to facilitate the opening and supporting of state centers for employee ownership. On January 1st, the five member board of EOX hired its first executive director, Steve Storkan, and in the first six months of operation EOX has been in contact with employee ownership “ambassadors” in 13 states who are interested in exploring the possibility of opening a center for employee ownership in their state.

In early July, EOX officially opened its first state center in North Carolina (the NCEOC) by providing organizational and operational support as well as an initial grant for $10,000 and a follow-up matching granting equal to another $15,000 during the first year of operation. We are looking forward to the opportunity to assist other states in this endeavor and are hopeful that the significant activity in Georgia, Minnesota, Tennessee, Michigan, and Florida helps us reach our goal of six new state centers by June 30, 2020.

EOX would like to thank Loren Rodgers and the staff of NCEO for the years of support they provided the state center task force which facilitated and supported the opening of the PaCEO,  the model being used by EOX for the opening of state centers. In addition, we would like to thank Jim Bonham and the staff of the ESOP Association and the Employee Ownership Foundation as well as Kevin McPhillips, executive director of the PaCEO, for their assistance and guidance as we navigated the complexity of creating a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

If you have interest in exploring the possibility of opening a center for employee ownership in your state or you want to find out more about EOX, please visit our website or contact Steve Storkan at [email protected].

Editor’s note: Other state centers are located in Ohio and Maryland.