In Western North Carolina the 12,000 retiring small business owners (nearly half of the total according to our latest study) do have options. For example, they could sell their businesses to outside corporations looking to acquire more diverse assets for their portfolios. This often means layoffs, relocation, changes in business practices and culture or even closure if profits don’t come quickly enough to suit absentee owners.
Alternatively, they could choose a well-heeled buyer who may or may not have ties to the local community (and would be unlikely to make any promises even if they did). These choices are suited for business owners who want a quick profit and don’t much care about what happens to their business, employees or the community they’ve served after they leave.
The reality is that most small business owners, my father included, do care what happens. They see themselves as co-creators of a vibrant local economy, and they would prefer to find buyers who will maintain that commitment to their community. Many envision themselves staying for a stint, as advisers to shepherd the process, in the business they dedicated their lives to.
The employee ownership structure comes closer to preserving a strong local business community than any other business model. It also creates a realistic avenue for owners to exit gracefully and a lucrative pathway to retire.