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Mini-cast 66: Project Equity - A Community-Based Focus on EO

Project Equity promotes all forms of employee ownership. Among other efforts, they work to leverage the public sector (beginning with cities), recognizing that EO is important to workers and their communities.


Mini-cast 66 Transcript

Announcer: 00:03 Welcome to The ESOP Mini-cast, a great way to wrap up the week.

Bret Keisling: 00:14 Hello, my friends. Thanks for listening. My name is Bret Keisling and as it says on my business cards, I'm a passionate advocate for employee ownership. Employee ownership is fortunate to have a lot of passionate advocates in what I call the EO sandbox and today I have the great pleasure of talking about an organization and a little bit about the people behind them: Project Equity. Earlier this week, our friend Jennifer Briggs, who's a passionate advocate for employee ownership in her own right, tweeted a post from Project Equity titled Small Business Closure Crisis and it's a look around the country about some of the things that we all know, the silver tsunami where baby boomers are hitting retirement age and the social issues that are addressed by employee ownership. Jen Briggs was kind enough to tag The EO podcast and me on Twitter and I'm really glad she did because I wasn't familiar with Project Equity and I'm so excited to be able to share with you about them a little bit

Bret Keisling: 01:15 Project Equity was founded by Alison Lingane and Hilary Abell -- and I apologize if I'm mispronouncing those names. You can get their bios and that of their team members on Project Equity's website, but suffice it to say these folks are great people doing wonderful things for all the right reasons. Hilary developed a passion for employee ownership, while a worker-owner at Equal Exchange. And Alison: third-generation American in her family and as her family went, as her bio indicates, from farmers to embracing the middle-class, Alison came to realize that the opportunities she had weren't available to an awful lot of Americans. Project Equity has on their website a number of case studies, a lot of information that you can share and some really cool business that have -- businesses that have -- gone employee owned: Namaste Solar, A Slice of New York, Niles Pie Company, TS Designs, and The Cheeseboard [Collective] are just some examples of collectives, co-ops and employee owned firms that they've been involved with.

Bret Keisling: 02:21 There's a lot of information about different regions of the country. They have information from California, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Washington state. They align with a lot of organizations that have similar goals and you can find links to these organizations on their website. Project Equity is a member of the Ashoka Network of change leaders and Alison Lingane is a fellow at Ashoka and from her bio there, which has really fascinating information. Now there's a bio page for Alison on the Ashoka website, and it's very interesting. It talks a lot about Project Equity's plans, lays things out very clearly, but there's one thing that I read that just resonated with me and made everything click. The goals of Project Equity, and again, these are not particularly unusual, I mean employee ownership is to increase awareness and grow demand, build a body of best practices, find partners to achieve scale, and unlock the flow of money, of capital. We've talked about this on the podcast quite a bit. What I found different was this, they do these things by raising awareness about the tremendous benefits, by working directly with business owners and employees to facilitate the transition, and -- and this for me is it-- by leveraging the public sector beginning with cities to encourage and promote this underrepresented and highly impactful business model.

Bret Keisling: 03:52 Folks, this is so incredibly important to me. We've talked about it on a lot of mini-casts. It's we need to take employee ownership and at least in the ESOP world where its roots began as transactions and it's all been about succession planning and folks that is important, we can't turn our backs on this, but what Project Equity is doing by working through the cities is building a grassroots of support for employee ownership outside of the business succession meetings. If city councils are engaged in employee ownership, if workers are motivated through outreach efforts to look for ways to convert the business they're employed in to be employee owned, all of this grassroots effort is going to be the groundswell that will grow employee ownership dramatically.

Bret Keisling: 04:49 Don't get me wrong, the transaction-based approach from ESOP brought us to where we are and certainly every aspect of employee ownership, you'll still need transactions, advisers, et cetera, et cetera. But changing the demand from just succession planning to bringing it to the community and the employees I think is huge. It also ties in with a lot of the work we've been doing on the podcasts in the past. For example, if you look back over recent episodes this fall, you're going to find our attention has been focused on Cedar Rapids, Iowa, our friend Jenn Krieger down in Houston, Texas, we've talked about Houston a lot. The folks at USA Mortgage and Vince Cruse in St. Louis, Missouri. What we've done is tried to draw the connection about building a stronger community of employee ownership. Here Project Equity is taking as their focus those communities themselves.

Bret Keisling: 05:44 So, I haven't done them much service, we do want to keep the mini-cast relatively short. I hope you will check out Project Equity's website. I will say that unlike some advocacy organizations, they do seem to have professional services available for hire. I took note on the website that you could schedule a consultation and they have a gamut of employee ownership services available, but there's also a "donate now" button. I can't speak to their professional paid services, that sort of thing, don't have any information, but want to stress the advocacy work they're doing; I support them 100%. So I hope you'll take the opportunity to visit Project Equity's website and if you're in one of the communities that I've talked about, Houston, or St. Louis, or Cedar Rapids, Central Pennsylvania, we've been working with State Representative Greg Rothman and there's going to be great things there. Reach out to Project Equity and see how their efforts might dovetail with what you're already looking to do in your own community.

Bret Keisling: 06:45 To the great folks at Project Equity, thank you so much for the work that you're doing. And as I've often said in the past, if you hear me talking about you on a podcast, I'd so much rather you come on and talk about yourselves so that you can present the story out in your own ways. I direct that to Project Equity and any advocacy group at all. With that, folks, I hope you have a great weekend. Thanks for your time today. We'll look for you Tuesday on The EO/ESOP podcast. Bye bye.

Bitsy McCann: 07:14 We'd love to hear from you! To contact us, find us on Facebook at KEISOP, LLC and on Twitter @ESOPPodcast. To reach Bret, with one "T", email, on LinkedIn at Bret Keisling, and most actively on Twitter at @EO_Bret. Again, that's one "T". This podcast has been produced by The KEISOP Group, technical assistance provided by Third Circle, Inc. and BitsyPlus Design. Original music composed by Max Keisling, archival podcast material edited and produced by Brian Keisling, and I'm Bitsy McCann.

Standard Disclaimer: The views expressed herein are my own and don't represent those of my own firms or the organizations to which I belong. Nothing in the podcast should be construed as guidance or advice of any kind in any field and the fact that I mentioned an organizational website or an advocate or a company on a podcast does not reflect an endorsement, but if you've heard your name or your group's name mentioned on this podcast, I'd love to have you come on and talk about it yourself.


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