February 20, 2020; Plain Dealer (Cleveland, OH)
Over the past few years, NPQ has written repeatedly about the need for new approaches to economic development that emphasize local ownership and shared equity, seeing an opportunity in the retirement of baby boomer local business owners. There is a lot going on in this realm, as a new nonprofit network has emerged to support and develop worker-owned businesses. One in that network is Evergreen Cooperatives in Cleveland, a nonprofit that serves as valuable infrastructure. Now Berry Insulation, an eleven-year-old, $2 million-a-year operation, joins their portfolio, as 15 employees have acquired the enterprise from former owner Martin Berry. Each new worker-owner has an equal stake in its future success.
The purchase was financed by Evergreen Cooperatives’ Fund for Employee Ownership. Berry describes the capital as “extremely patient”—and thus extremely valuable. Perhaps just as critically, it will be able to avail itself of the wisdom of a growing network of similar enterprises started by Evergreen.
The additional compensation through profit-sharing will supplement wages that generally range from $15 to $30 an hour. The company’s board will decide how much profit goes directly to the employees and how much gets reinvested in the company, Berry said.
Beyond adding to their net worth, employees will become more thoughtful about costs and safety on the job and lead to “an enhanced thought process about the customer,” Berry said.
Berry was actively considering succession planning in the context of a lack of interested family members when someone suggested the fund to him. It quickly became the best option available.
“I have a lot of affection for the guys and I’m really proud of the business and I don’t want it to go away,” Berry says.—Ruth McCambridge