Baby boomer entrepreneurs hope co-op model will keep business going
Berkeley’s reclaimed trash company Urban Ore has diverted tons of garbage from the dump and into the hands of customers, and the company has become a key part of Berkeley’s recycling ecosystem. But it could disappear.
That’s because the owners of the 36-year-old business, Dan Knapp and Mary Lou Van Deventer, are ready to stop working.
Many of America’s small businesses are in a similar position. Baby boomers hold about 45 percent of the country’s privately owned businesses that employ workers, according to a new analysis of U.S. Census data by the nonprofit Project Equity. As the owners retire, many shut down or sell off their businesses.
“We bought it at $3 million and it’s worth three times that now,” Knapp said. Urban Ore’s owners have a different plan, even though selling off the property could prove lucrative. Urban Ore’s three-acre warehouse in Berkeley is a real estate gold mine.
“Both our lawyer and our banker have advised us to sell the property and take the money,” Van Deventer said. “And we say, ‘But we said we spent our lives building the business.’”