A recent study released by Project Equity shows that nearly half of all small businesses in Western North Carolina are owned by people age 55 and older. These businesses employ more than 130,000 people whose combined wages exceed $4 billion each year, and account for more than $26-billion in annual sales.
With their retirement years approaching in the years ahead, more than 85% of these business owners do not have a viable succession plan for the future. This lack of succession planning ahead of retirement, which some call a “silver tsunami”, represents a threat to the livelihoods of employees as well as the WNC economy.
Enter The Industrial Commons, Project Equity’s regional partner. The Industrial Commons was formed in 2015 in response to a need in WNC for an industry focused organization that provides resources and support to firms and networks in a way that improves livelihoods and roots wealth in communities.
Their efforts were profiled recently by the publication Mountain XPress as one solution to the succession problem. Employee ownership “not only solves a problem of succession, it also infuses us with something we’re good at, which is a strong local identity,” Molly Hemstreet said in the story. Hemstreet co-founded The Industrial Commons, and founded the thriving worker-owned sewing company Opportunity Threads in Valdese.
These efforts are timely and can transform and ensure a bright future for mom and pop businesses that have a sustained record of success. Employees of these companies will benefit from a work place that they have a stake in for the future. The Bridge will continue to follow the efforts of Project Equity and The Industrial Commons.