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If you’ve heard a lot about the “Silver Tsunami” of impending retirements among boomer business owners, that’s thanks partly to the work of Alison Lingane, Hilary Abell, and their team at Project Equity, a San Francisco Bay Area nonprofit that is helping to spread the word about employee ownership.

Baby boomers, the group points out, own 2.3 million businesses, or nearly half of America’s privately held businesses with employees. Six out of ten business owners plan to sell their companies in the next ten years. Many are good candidates for employee ownership.

Project Equity takes this broad message to cities’ economic development staffers, often bringing it alive with detailed local data. A study of manufacturing companies in Fremont, California, for example, found that nearly two-fifths of the city’s production and supply-chain firms are 20 years older or more. Alerted to the data, the city sent a letter to companies urging them to consider sale to employees when the owners retire.

Alison Lingane (left) and Hilary Abell

The group has done detailed studies of half a dozen other localities as well. It offers a “city government toolkit” to elected officials and economic development specialists, outlining the potential benefits of ownership transitions.

Project Equity also acts as a service provider, consulting with business owners interested in selling to an ESOP, cooperative or employee trust. It will see companies through the transition and help them post-transition with creating an ownership culture. Its sweet spot, says co-founder Abell, is companies with between $2 million and $50 million in revenue and 20 to 200 employees.

One client is a two-pizzeria, 35-employee shop called A Slice of New York, based in San Jose. The company converted to full co-op ownership in 2017. Another is Adams and Chittenden Scientific Glass, a specialty manufacturing business in Berkeley, California, whose retiring owners want to see the business live on into the next generation. Project Equity also supported the recent transition of Organically Grown Company, the largest distributor of organic produce in the Northwest, to a new ownership model of a perpetual purpose trust.

As a nonprofit funded partly by foundations, Project Equity can take on clients that might be too small for conventional (and often costly) ESOP transitions. It also supports larger companies with hands-on expertise both in structuring broad-based employee ownership under various legal forms and in training employee-owners. Project Equity’s mission to scale the benefits of employee ownership means that it devotes resources to raising awareness of impending retirements and the value of employee ownership for communities, cities, businesses, and employees.