As boomer owners prepare to sell, a push for workers to buy


Your company’s next owner could be sitting in a cubicle down the hall, assembling parts on a factory floor or laboring on a construction site down the street. That, at least, is the hope of a burgeoning movement concerned about what will happen to the thousands of small and mid-sized businesses owned by baby boomers in Central Pennsylvania.

Most, if not all, of those owners will be looking to sell their companies over the next few years.

While many will turn to family members, industry peers or even private equity firms, an effort led by a Lancaster-based nonprofit is hoping owners will at least contemplate handing over the reins to employees.

“Widespread ownership transitions in our community offer us an opportunity to harness the moment to retain local jobs, root wealth locally and maintain a vibrant local economy. Employee ownership structures are a powerful way to do this,” said Craig Dalen, director of impact business strategy at Assets, the nonprofit that is leading the charge to spread awareness about employee ownership.

The nonprofit is describing the wave of anticipated sales as a “silver tsunami.”

At stake is the fate of roughly 11,550 businesses employing nearly 135,000 people in Berks, Dauphin, Lancaster, Lebanon and York counties, the areas covered by Assets, according to data the nonprofit gathered from the most recent U.S. Census survey of small-business owners, taken in 2012. The region’s boomer-owned companies represent $30.87 billion in sales and $4.79 billion in payroll.





As it looks to put employee ownership on the menu of exit strategies, Assets is collaborating with local lawyers, advisers and business owners, as well as an Oakland-based nonprofit, Project Equity, that is undertaking similar campaigns in other communities around the country.

Employee ownership remains relatively rare. Out of nearly 6 million companies of all sizes nationwide, just under 7,000 are held by employee stock ownership plans, or ESOPs, one of the most common vehicles for selling a business to its workers, according to the National Center for Employee Ownership. Another 1,000 companies operate under other forms of employee ownership, Project Equity estimates.

Employee ownership is not a fit for every business, its advocates acknowledge. And it is not the only way to preserve local control. Passing a business from a parent to a child or children, for example, also keeps wealth and ownership in a community.

But it is better than simply shutting a company down, which is often the path of least resistance, or selling to a third party from outside the community, said the co-founders of Project Equity, Alison Lingane and Hilary Abell

“Typically that means you’re going to lose at least some portion of the jobs in administrative and back-end operations,” said Lingane, noting that a company’s spending and profits also may leave the community after a sale.

Advocates of employee ownership want to ensure departing owners are rewarded fairly for what often represents their life’s work. But they also hope owners will value other factors besides the final sale price.

“The problem is that many advisers are pushing cash and that becomes a proxy for value,” said Ed Renenger, an attorney and ESOP specialist with Reading-based law firm Stevens & Lee. “In our experience if a business owner receives enough cash consideration to take care of their personal, family and charitable needs, it frees them up to think about other value drivers. There are lots of owners that find value in other things, such as legacy, community and employees.”

A sale to employees often entails risk and complications that don’t arise during a sale to a third party, Renenger and other advisers acknowledged. But the complexity ultimately is no greater than it is for a more typical sale.

“The reality is that the transition of a business to a third party, with the exception of an intergenerational transfer, is a very emotional event for the owner,” Renenger said. “It’s a complicated transaction that involves a detailed examination of current operations, current compliance with the law, current financial statements in ways that may feel very intrusive, and a sale to an ESOP is not unique in that.”

The ESOP, however, creates an opportunity to reward employees and preserve a business owner’s legacy, advocates said. And there are tax benefits, Renenger said. For one, an ESOP is considered a retirement plan, so a company that buys stock for its employees via contributions to an ESOP can use pre-tax dollars to do so, just like it would if it were making contributions to an employee’s 401(k) account.

Employee ownership also dovetails with changing expectations for the workplace, said Roger North, president of North Group Consultants Inc., a Lititz-based leadership consulting firm.

After World War II, workplaces followed a command-and-control approach fashioned along military lines, North said. Employees mostly accepted decisions handed down from above.

People entering the workplace today expect to have greater input into decision-making, he said. An ownership stake, whether held by children or employees, can help sharpen that input.

“My observation would be, if you don’t shift to that way of thinking, particularly over the next 10 to 15 years, you’ll likely be behind your competition,” North said.



It’s a way of thinking that has become ingrained at business software company Cargas Systems Inc. Employees have owned a growing stake in the company since 1998, said founder and CEO Chip Cargas.

Cargas now owns about 40 percent of the company. About 70 of the firm’s 100 employees hold the remaining 60 percent. Employees have two opportunities a year to buy at least $600 worth of stock. Shareholders help elect the company’s board, but all employees have access to the company’s financial performance and profit-sharing bonuses and other perks.

Cargas may no longer be the majority owner. But, he said, he feels he has a more engaged workforce and a sustainable company where people want to work. They pitch in when times are hard and celebrate when times are good.

“When we started employee ownership, I was 100 percent owner of a small pie,” he said. “Today I’m the 40 percent owner of a much larger pie and 40 percent of that much larger pie dwarfs the 100 percent of the smaller pie.”

The pie, he said, would not have grown as large without the effort and engagement of employee-owners. “Yes, we have a hierarchical organizational structure with titles and whatnot, but the way we operate is so collaborative,” he said.

And Cargas doesn’t have to fret about what will happen to the company when he retires. The succession is already under way, allowing employees to focus on customers.

“We don’t need to be worried about shocks to the system from huge ownership changes,” Cargas said.


As they move ahead, Assets and Project Equity plan to do more than raise awareness. Their goal eventually is to conduct feasibility studies for companies interested in employee ownership and to work with them to make it happen. Details are still being worked out, Dalen said.

Project Equity already has undertaken several transitions in the San Francisco area and has been developing studies for companies in western North Carolina, where it is working with a local partner called Industrial Commons, Lingane and Abell said.

The chief risks for retiring business owners include ensuring employees are prepared to become owners, both mentally and financially.

“Most small businesses are looking to rely on key employees who have management potential, who can keep the ship sailing and keep things going,” said Peter Kraybill, an attorney and leader of the corporate practice group at Lancaster County law firm Gibbel Kraybill & Hess LLP.

The key employees also need money to pay for the business. It typically involves a combination of debt and a promise to pay the selling owner over time as the buying employees acquire ever-greater chunks of the company, Kraybill said.

Among the risks is less-than-complete payment to the seller, especially if the new owners stumble during the transition, Kraybill said. The new owners may not buy in at the original rate preferred by the seller, or they may not earn the full confidence of customers.

“It’s quite a bit to navigate for an owner,” Kraybill said. “There are a lot of nervous-making moments.”

But, he said, there is a risk when a business is sold to an outside party. A third party could require payments over time instead of in a lump sum, and it may run the company very differently.

“That’s also a risk to a departing owner who very often, particularly for small businesses, has built this as their life work,” Kraybill said.

Small Change. Big Difference.

ASSETS is the #GiveLocal recipient of March and April 2017!

Launched in 2017, Lemon Street Market’s #GiveLocal project is a register round up initiative designed to support Lancaster organizations whose missions align with ours.

Customers can elect to “round up” their purchases to the nearest dollar when they check out, with proceeds donated to the featured organization for that month. Customers can also choose to increase their at-the-register donation by adding to their round up value. By shopping at Lemon Street Market, customers are directly supporting more than 75 local farmers and vendors, and even more through local distributors like Lancaster Farm Fresh, Oasis, and Four Seasons. For each dollar spent at a local, family-owned business, 80% is put back into the local economy. For every dollar spent at large, corporate owned stores, only 20% makes it back into the local economy.

Help us to contribute even more to our community by choosing to #GiveLocal when you check out at Lemon Street Market.

Top 10 Milestones at ASSETS in 2016

First of all, THANK YOU to everyone who made 2016 a great year for ASSETS. We couldn’t have done this without you. We’d like you to help us celebrate some of our highlighted moments of 2016:

  1. We opened the Women’s Business Center and hired Melisa Baez as the first director of the Center! The Women’s Business Center at ASSETS is developed in partnership with the Small Business Administration to assist small business owners who are starting or expanding their small business.
  2. Two clients became certified B CorpsThe Lancaster Stroopies Company and Two Dudes Painting. B Corps certification is geared towards for-profit companies to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.
  3. ASSETS became a certified SBA Microlender.
  4. We hosted two Cultivate Lancaster events, with a total of over 300 people in attendance.
  5. For our third annual Great Social Enterprise Pitch, we sold out the entire Ware Center!
  6. We launched the ASSETS Business Directory features the businesses of our wonderful clients.
  7. ASSETS is honored to have won the Samaritan Counseling Center Business in Ethics Awards.
  8. Our Director of Programs, Jonathan Coleman, received the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce Young Professional’s Network (YPN) Innovation Award.
  9. Our Director of The Women’s Business Center, Melisa Baez, received MEDA’s “Ten Young Women Changing the World” award.
  10. And….. ASSETS helped over 40 businesses launch!!

Thank you so much to everyone. W wish you a wonderful and prosperous 2017!



ASSETS to participate in the 2016 ExtraOrdinary Give!

ASSETS is a non-profit organization focused on transforming our community through business. We provide training, 1-on-1 coaching and financing to entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs looking to start or grow their business.
Thanks to Waller Financial for matching funds!
The direct giving link for ASSETS is here. Giving begins at 12:01 am on Friday, November 18.

help sponsor the journey, through a 10-week educational program, for 1 entrepreneur in starting a business, supporting Lancaster’s low-income communities.

help support a Lending Circle through professional development and technical assistance, to better manage their businesses and increase profits.

help provide a social entrepreneur with tools they need to make a positive impact in our community through business.

We hope you will consider donating to ASSETS during the ExtraOrdinary Give! Our donation site will become live on November 18 at 12:01am. Please share with your friends, or anyone else who you think might be interested in our mission to alleviate poverty in our community through business!

Sustainability Roundtable Breakfast

Do you want to make sure your community benefit organization makes an impact AND a profit?

Do you want to be able to bounce back from difficult financial times?


If so, join DC Beam Consulting for a free informational session focused on nonprofit sustainability! Get a sneak peak at upcoming workshops and training opportunities, like the Bounce seminar series!

 Dani Beam of DC Beam Consulting will facilitate a discussion on creating sustainable, buoyant organizations!


Offered through partnership of

Nonprofit Resource Network, ASSETS, & DC Beam Consulting


Assets Logo

DC Beam Logo

Community Wealth Building: Reinvigorating American Democracy

By: Courtney Rinden, Staff Intern

Ted Howard’s localist approach to community wealth building argues the necessity of progressive pathways—working beyond the scope of traditional, federally driven solutions—for combating socioeconomic inequality. To reinvigorate American democracy, communities must embrace market solutions driven by large, place-based institutions, made sustainable through expanding ownership.

Increasing socioeconomic inequality betrays our belief system’s foundation in democracy and equal opportunity for all. The American Dream deems that with talent and ability, you can go anywhere and be anything—but our widespread belief in meritocracy and equal opportunity is naïve. Howard declared that the number of people living in high poverty neighborhoods has doubled since 2000, and that half of US children under 5 live in low-income situations. What’s more, a job does not secure one’s position out of poverty. “A job alone is not enough,” Howard argued, citing that 1 in 4 US jobs pays less than poverty-level wages. Millions of Americans live below the poverty line, but some of those individuals technically possess the “opportunity” for upward mobility. It’s a catch-22 for our time. Howard encouraged the audience to consider the ironies inherent in this reality and how we’re literally stunting our own socioeconomic growth through present business practices.  

transformng communities breakfast-4Despite the emerging failure of our “democracy” to meet the needs of all citizens, traditional markets can support a more inclusive economy. Place-based institutions, like educational institutions (Franklin & Marshall College and Millersville University) and medical institutions (Lancaster General Hospital and Lancaster Regional Hospital), will forever be anchored in our community. Howard argues there’s immense incentive for these institutions to improve their local surroundings. More than incentive though, these institutions have responsibility to be agents for change, according to Howard. With million dollar budgets, such institutions can offer viable opportunities to support more sustainable, fair business practices. This theory is already gaining traction in Lancaster: creative solutions to local dilemmas.

We need to look at the supply chains for these large institutions. This is an already defined market opportunity for social enterprise to enact ethical, sustainable business models to meet real need. Plus, we can use the market to create positive social change. Howard referenced Greyston Bakery, located in Yonkers, New York, as an example of how business can counteract systemic injustices. Intentionally hiring individuals with barriers to employment, Greyston pays employees a thriving wage. Greyston then sells baked goods on a national scale and uses the profits to sustain programs to empower employees on the path to self-sufficiency. Companies like Greyston prove that the free market doesn’t have to remain exclusive—federal policies that lack “teeth,” can be side skirted through smaller scale initiatives.

Essential to the long-term success of this localist approach to attacking inequality is empowerment through ownership. Through cooperative and employee-ownership models, local businesses can “anchor capital” through paths to ownership built into their business plans. Lack of wealth affects all facets of life; local businesses can step in to mitigate the discrepancies. Howard cited Market Creek Plaza, in San Diego, California, as an example where a mixed-use development emphasizing culture and commerce offers local residents the chance to buy shares. In an age when ownership in increasingly unavailable to America’s lower classes, intentional community-oriented business models can empower individuals that face historic barriers to wealth accumulation, to build a stronger, more stable legacy for inclusive prosperity. This model also strengthens ties to the development’s surrounding communities, as individuals with stake in the development have vested interest in the development’s success. With ownership in mind, businesses can implement profitable mechanisms that challenge mobility barriers and dead-end employment models, for long-term fulfillment and inclusion through the labor market.  


Howard’s local, grassroots approach is already alive in
Cleveland, Ohio. And while his solution places more of the locus of control for outcomes on local institutions, the positive changes are tangible. If we are to remain hopeful in the fight for greater social justice, Howard’s community wealth building theory needs support. Lancaster possess the power to change our immediate reality, we just need the dedicated leadership to bring this theory to life. Let’s take back our rights to govern themselves.      

Photo credit: Summer Crow Photos.
Find a podcast recording of the breakfast discussion, brought to you by 4 your info PODCASTZ, HERE.

#LancasterPitch 2.0

Screenshot 2015-10-20 15.32.26Amidst a bustling Friday evening in the city, ASSETS in partnership with the Lancaster County Community Foundation, brought the Great Social Enterprise Pitch back for its second year. For 8 months prior, local social entrepreneurs worked with Jonathan Coleman and Jessica King, of ASSETS, and Melody Keim, of Lancaster County Community Foundation. Sharing, shaping, collaborating, these minds met nearly every week to bring their powerful ideas to life in Lancaster. The crowning jewel in the process? The Live Pitch.

This year’s Pitch drew an inspiring crowd. As the Pitchers prepared to share their business ideas with the public, community members, friends, and family filled the auditorium at Robert Fulton Elementary School.

Mayor Rick Gray kicked off the evening’s program with remarks on the need for Social Enterprise in Lancaster, and then, one by one, the Pitchers shared their visions.

Life & Legacies, a joint-venture by Meredith Jorgensen Cooke and Joe Mitton, took the stage to tell their story about the importance of giving others a voice. With a storefront already secured on Prince Street, the duo explained how they intend to let everyone’s story be heard with the help of digital media. Next, Make 717 shared their enthusiasm for creation through a “maker space.” With the help of local community partners and subscription membership plans, Ben Eisemann and Bruce C. Schreiner hope to empower artisans, machinists, and designers alike. The Stroopie Company, represented by Jennie Groff, pulled at heartstrings when Groff began her pitch by touching on the Syrian refugee crisis. The Stroopie Co. offers meaningful employment refugees–a fitting pursuit, given that Lancaster is home to over 5,000 refugees. Selling cookies with plans to open a sweet shop on North King, the Groff family demonstrated their company is ready to scale. 

Sarah Rutt, of Revolution, pitched next. Rutt explained how the social enterprise offers experiential training and business skills to homeless women. Selling handcrafted jewelry, the Revolution team has already begun working with Water Street Ministries. Far Far Away Books wrapped up the pitch presentations, with the idea for a mobile book-seller for low-income neighborhoods brought to life by Garrett Drew Ellis and his daughter. Ellis hopes to share his love of learning and reading with people of all ages, though his target audience is parents and children.

Screenshot 2015-10-20 15.35.25With the “Pass the Hat” voting underway, Gabriel Mandujano, of Wash Cycle Laundry began sharing his passion for triple bottom line business. Emphasizing sustainability–environmental, economic, and most importantly, human–Mandujano shared the triumphs and trials he’s faced in business. Social enterprise confronts entrepreneurs with unique challenges, but the rewards can also be uniquely fulfilling, he encouraged the audience.

Finally, Jonathan Coleman and Jessica King, of ASSETS, announced the winners. After a week’s worth of deliberation, the judges awarded the top prize to The Stroopie Co. Make 717 took second prize, and Revolution secured the audience vote and donations, totaling $597.46, in addition to third prize.   

As the program came to a close, the celebration was only beginning! Audience members were invited to join ASSETS and the Lancaster County Community Foundation for the after party, hosted at the Parrot Gallery at Community Mennonite Church of Lancaster. Guests enjoyed light refreshments, conversation, and music, provided by Lancaster’s own one-man band, Nick DiSanto. All were invited to share their thoughts and hang them on the “clothes line” strung throughout the venue. While some shared their appreciation for decorations and atmosphere, the overwhelming majority spoke to the “amazing community that supports this kind of endeavor.”

With many, many thanks to all the community members, guests, and partners, ASSETS is proud to stand with Lancaster to build a better community through business. We’re looking forward to next year, and you can be sure the #LancasterPitch will be back–only next time, it’ll be bigger, better, and more impactful. We hope you’ll join us.

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Breakfast #3: Making Capital Work for Lancaster

July 7th’s Transforming Communities Through Business Breakfast Series kicked off yet again with Upohar’s wonderful breakfast stylings at the Southern Market Center. Local business owners, investors, and community members alike gathered for some early morning, “get to know your neighbor” exercises led by Randy Newswanger. After breaking the ice, ASSETS Executive Director Jessica King settled in behind the podium to start unpacking the topic at hand, “Community Capital.”

Community Capital is one of 8 principles embraced by the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE). BALLE is a national network that aims to promote local, sustainable, impact-oriented businesses and economies. The intent behind Community Capital is to encourage communities to put their capital to work in their local environments, because all too often, financial investments are sent far way, out of sight. This investment trend leaves community members with little to no tangible ties to the impact of their investments.

“There’s a disconnect,” King began her address. She was referring to a traditional investment cycle – sharing examples of foundations that made grants to assist communities with problems caused in part by the businesses the same foundations profited from. “Traditional philanthropy may not be the answer,” King said, referring to making as much money as possible and giving some of the profit away, rather than examining the harm or the benefit of the business model making the profit.

The answer isn’t so simple, though. And the point of the “Community Capital” topic was not to lambast big business–King instead prompted the audience to consider their personal assets. She urged listeners to reflect on where their money comes from, how it was made, and how this income translates to personal assets. Could we all make small changes to see more of our money circulating in our immediate environment?  While foundations and community funds can jumpstart capital for social good–and this already occurs in Lancaster County–individuals can also deploy capital to create socioeconomic change.

Shifting your shopping from large, corporate stores, to smaller, local businesses is proven to have a deeper impact in immediate communities. As King cited a statistic comparing the number of jobs created per $10 million consumer dollars spent, listeners learned that a site like only created 14 jobs with that capital, while the same $10 million could create 57 jobs, if spent locally.

As if on cue, King sensed the awe and reminded the audience that they could be the source of “very real impact on jobs and people locally.” But community capital doesn’t necessarily need to be focused on job creation. King encouraged attendees to consider what matters to them, individually.

The most promising part of the morning’s talk came with King’s final words to the audience. “How can we take a step?” she questioned. “It doesn’t need to be the whole hog,” she encouraged with a smile. Part of the crucial work in service of this mission was already getting started. The biggest takeaway from the morning’s musings was the hope that through conversations about these ideas, personal reflection about spending decisions, and sharing input with community members, we can begin to change our own community, through business, for the better. What a morning!

Look for more information to come on next month’s breakfast focusing on “Opportunity for All,” August 4th. We hope you’ll join us. 🙂

B the Change In 2015: How to Become a B Corporation

On February 3rd at 1pm, ASSETS is hosting a public gathering to participate in the webinar, “B the Change In 2015: How to Become a B Corporation.”

What is a B Corporation?
B Corp is to business what Fair Trade certification is to coffee or USDA-Organic certification is to milk.
B Corps are certified by the nonprofit B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.
Today, there is a growing community of more than 1,000 Certified B Corps from 33 countries and over 60 industries working together toward 1 unifying goal: to redefine success in business.

This webinar will walk through why and how companies become Certified B Corps.

Specifically, participants will learn:
– How companies are leveraging B Corp Certification
– The steps required to become Certified
– Tips and tricks for completing the B Impact Assessment and improving your score

ASSETS staff and owners of local B Corps will be present and available to answer your questions!
The webinar is free and snacks will be provided.  If you plan to attend, please register here

View background video:  B Corp Anthem – B The Change

 B Corp Anthem – B The Change