As baby boomer business owners retire

our local business landscape is poised to go through a dramatic shift. Employee ownership keeps these businesses rooted for the long term.

Baby boomers own almost HALF

of all privately-held businesses with employees in Washington State.

6 out of 10 U.S. business owners

plan to sell their company over the next decade.

Small businesses are the lifeblood of our economy.

They make up 99.5% of all firms and provide 51.5% of all jobs in Washington State.

Employee ownership deepens the impact

of local businesses and keeps them locally-owned for the long term.

Benefits to the selling owner

– Preserve your legacy
– Take care of your employees
– Realize market rate for your business
– Enjoy tax advantages

For cities & regional planners

– Track the impact in your region
– Engage with businesses & help them plan for succession
– Employee ownership education

Baby boomers

own nearly half of all privately-held businesses with employees in Washington State.

The problem

As baby boomer business owners retire, our local business landscape is poised to go through a dramatic shift. With boomers owning about half of all privately-held businesses in Washington State, we will see a massive ownership changeover of locally-held businesses as the ‘Silver Tsunami’ of retirements approaches.

The vast majority (over 85%) of business owners do not have a succession plan in place, and increasingly, many are finding it hard to find a buyer when they are ready to sell.

As a result, some of these companies will quietly close down, a very small percent will be passed on to family members, others will sell to another local owner, and some will be sold to a larger company or out of area buyer. Those in this last category will likely lay off employees and will further concentrate ownership and wealth.

We have the opportunity to keep many of these businesses locally-owned for the long term and to deepen their positive impact on our local economy.

How? By helping them transition to broad-based employee ownership.


Why does this matter?

Small businesses are the lifeblood of our economy, they make up over 99% of all firms and provide more than half the jobs in Washington State. Locally owned businesses circulate three times more money back into the local economy than absentee-owned firms or chain businesses. And local businesses are based on local relationships, fostering trust and civic engagement.

Employee ownership extends the legacy of these businesses while deepening their impact in our community. By selling businesses to the employees businesses remain anchored in the region while continuing to provide good jobs, enhance access to wealth and promote entrepreneurship.



What can we do about it?

We can all play a role in keeping businesses local and promoting employee ownership.

Raise awareness of the problem

We hear about the impact of baby boomer retirements on health care and on employment, but there is low awareness of the impact on local business ownership. Please share this information with your city government and others who can help.

  • Local governments can measure the impact on their tax base by using business license data to track how many businesses are over 15, 20 or 25 years old.
  • City and regional planners can convene local officials, business networks, lenders and others to determine how they are assessing and addressing this issue.

Engage businesses about employee ownership transitions

The benefits of broad-based employee ownership are clear, but most business owners do not know that selling their business to their employees is a great way to preserve its legacy.

  • Business service providers can add succession planning to their service offerings and include employee ownership as an option
  • Cities can add succession planning into their economic development goals and partner with organizations that provide education and expertise on employee ownership
  • Regional planners can integrate the stabilization of local business ownership into their goals

Listen to the interview with Whatcom Community Foundation

Spokane Business Journal article

Baby boomers face decision of a generation

Press Release

New Research Details Effects Of Silver Tsunami On Local Washington Economies And What To Do About It

Bellingham, WA

Just released: Employee ownership in Bellingham, WA

Download the infographic

Small Business Closure Crisis Infographic

Free consultation

for businesses interested in employee ownership.

About Whatcom Community Foundation and Project Equity

As a national organization, Project Equity advocates for and raises awareness of broad-based, democratic employee ownership, and we support businesses in transitioning to this highly beneficial business model. Through amazing local partners, we support this work in regions across the country.

Whatcom Community Foundation, our outreach partner in Washington State, is a nonprofit organization focused on amplifying the force of philanthropy by connecting people, ideas and resources so that communities across Whatcom County flourish. To accomplish their mission, they:

  • Foster partnerships
  • Put dollars to work through grant-making and impact investing
  • Strengthen nonprofits
  • Help donors make a difference
  • Advocate for equity

Together, we are raising awareness about the Silver Tsunami of business owner retirements and how employee ownership works as a succession planning strategy. Read the other studies we’ve done in Washington including Bellingham and the small towns of Whatcom County. We are experienced in helping selling business owners assess the fit between their business goals and this approach, and, for those who move forward, working with the owner and employees to structure and operationalize a successful transition to employee ownership and an effective ownership culture.

Wealthy communities start with healthy local businesses!

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