2020 Annual Conference To Be Held Virtually August 18th

18th Annual Vermont Employee Ownership Conference!

Date: Tuesday, August 18th, 8:30-4:30pm

Platform: Zoom, hosted and coordinated by the University of Vermont

Register Here!

Rescheduled from June 11th due to COVID-19, the VEOC's 18th annual Vermont Employee Ownership Conference will be held virtually on Tuesday, August 18th! Featuring 15 workshops and a number of other activities, the one-day conference is the largest annual gathering of Vermont's employee-ownership community. It is a great opportunity for newcomers to get oriented and old hands to deepen their knowledge.

Discounts Available: we offer a variety of discounted tickets for students, academics, first-time attendees exploring employee ownership, and economic development professionals. If you're interested in learning more, please email [email protected].


8:30-9:00: Arrival and Socializing

9:00-10:00: Welcome and Keynote by Blake Jones

Blake is Co-Founder of Namaste Solar, an employee-owned cooperative and solar electric company based in Colorado. Founded in 2004, Namaste Solar is democratically owned and governed by its 200+ employees and is a certified B-Corp. Among its business practices are a 6:1 cap for highest-to-lowest pay, donating 10% of after-tax profits to the community, and being 100% transparent with all company information (including salaries). Due to its unique business model, Namaste Solar has earned widespread recognition including a “Best Place to Work” award from Outside Magazine (2013-2018), a “Best for the World” designation from B Lab (2012-2014), a “Most Democratic Workplace” award from Worldblu (2010-2014), and a #56 ranking on the “Inc. 500” (2009).  Blake is a cooperative enthusiast and is a co-founder of three other cooperatives:  (1) Clean Energy Credit Union, a new federally chartered credit union that provides loans exclusively for clean energy (and energy saving) projects throughout the USA; (2) Amicus Solar Cooperative, a purchasing cooperative and certified B-Corp that is democratically owned by 55+ solar installation companies throughout North America; and (3) Kachuwa Impact Fund, an investment cooperative and impact investing fund with multiple impact themes including renewable energy, cooperatives, certified B-Corps, and companies that are majority-owned by women, people of color, and/or employees. Blake is a 2010 Ernst & Young “Entrepreneur of the Year” award recipient and has a BE in Civil Engineering from Vanderbilt University.

10:15-11:30: Session Block A

1. An Introduction to Employee Ownership

Presenters: Matt Cropp, Vermont Employee Ownership Center; Susan Halevi, SES ESOP Strategies; Deb Harris, PT360; Jonathan Schumacher, Birdseye Building

This is the place to start if you’re thinking about bringing employee ownership to your company. We’ll explore the reasons for doing so, the basic structures and the ways to implement them. You’ll learn about the two most common forms of employee ownership, Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOPs) and worker cooperatives. Leaders from ESOP-owned Birdseye Building and cooperatively-owned PT-360 will share their companies’ stories.

2. Hot Topics for Worker Cooperatives

Presenters: Adam Trott, Valley Alliance of Worker Cooperatives & Shared Capital Cooperative; Nico Lustig, Dunkiel-Saunders

In a reprise of past highly-rated “hot topics” sessions, the facilitators will begin by polling participants for topics of interest, and then, drawing on a pre-conference survey of Vermont worker co-ops and their own experience, will delve into discussions of some of the most pressing issues facing worker cooperators today.

3. How an ESOP Works: An Introduction for Employee Owners

Presenter: Alex Moss and Jon Sweigart, Praxis Consulting Group

This discussion session introduces the why, what, how, and so what of ESOPs. We'll start with our Praxis framework, the outline we use with individual ESOP clients. We'll then actively solicit audience questions and priorities in order to focus on the questions of greatest interest to attendees. And we'll provide both our own (Praxis) answers and stories, as well as fostering active discussion among participants about how they have addressed key questions, to talk through answers to hard questions, and to identify lessons learned from our work and yours that may benefit others. We are targeting the discussion to employee-owners, and we welcome HR professionals, executives, and anyone else who would like to share their experiences and learn from others.

4. Developing Resilience

Presenters: Molly Mead, Praxis Consulting Group; Keith Flaherty, Hallam-ICS; Cheryl Allen, King Arthur Baking Company

Resilience is crucial. It is more important than education or experience in determining who succeeds and who fails. This session will provide practical, actionable steps individuals and companies can take to be more resilient. Panelists will include employee owners who will share their resilience journey.

5. Hot Topics for ESOPs

Presenters: Barbara Clough, The Newport Group; Tabitha Croscut, Devine Millimet; John Murphy, Atlantic Management

This session will discuss current trending topics related to the ESOP community including the impact of the SECURE and CARES Acts, PPP loans and implementation of recent DOL guidelines on electronic disclosure.    The panel will discuss the multi-disciplinary approach to interim valuations, the reasons to have an interim valuation prepared, timing of distributions and changes to distribution policy/plan document.

11:45-12:15pm: "Table Topics" Sessions

12:15-12:45: Lunch Break

12:45-2:00: Session Block B

​6. ESOP Transaction Basics

Presenters: Tabitha Croscut, Devine Milliment; Chuck Coyne, Empire Valuation; Jamie Trowbridge, Yankee Publishing

If you want to learn more about ESOPs as an ownership transition strategy, come to this session! We will cover the details, including the tax benefits, the process, the team and the timeline to transition to an ESOP-owned company. Then once you understand the basics, the CEO and third-generation owner of family-owned business Yankee Publishing, will share how his family used their ESOP to transition 30% of their company’s ownership.

7. Co-op Conversion Nuts & Bolts

Presenters: Rob Brown, Cooperative Development Institute; Joe Marraffino, Democracy At Work Institute; Carolyn Edsell-Vetter, Cooperative Fund of New England 

This session will focus on the three distinct transitions in an established company's transition to a worker cooperative: the ownership, the governance, and the management.  Panelists will show how to segment and sequence each transition to make success much more likely.

8. Sharing Financial Information in Times of Rapid Change

Presenters: Cindy Turcot, Gardener’s Supply Company; Carolyn Stanworth, BL Companies; Elias Gardner, The New School of Montpelier; Alex Fischer, Open Bookkeeping

A key to building a culture of ownership and engagement is sharing with employees both financial information and the basic business concepts that allow “the numbers” to be meaningful.  This is especially important when the economy is turbulent and worst case scenarios are easy to imagine.  A panel of leaders of companies known for their open-book practices will share their techniques, and give examples of formats and materials they use.

9. Big Picture Thinking in the Time of COVID-19

Presenters: Linshuang Lu and Alex Moss, Praxis Consulting Group

The uncertainty of the covid-19 pandemic has made it very challenging to plan. Nevertheless, it is important to not lose sight of the big picture during the pandemic.

This session will provide a range of approaches for engaging in strategic thinking during this pandemic so that your organization stays anchored as it navigates the changes, taps into the innovation that's currently happening, and shifts in ways that support future impact.

10. The Moral Imperative for Addressing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Employee-Owned Companies

Presenters: Nelson Parrish and Ginny Vanderslice, Praxis Consulting Group; Daniel Goldstein, Folience

Recent tragic events have heightened our attention to issues of systemic racism in American culture. As a result. many leaders of employee-owned companies have been thinking through what actions they should take as leaders, regardless of whether their company has a diverse workforce or is located in a relatively homogenous community. This session will include a case example from an ESOP company in Iowa, structured discussion among participants, and presentation of a roadmap for action.

2:15-3:30: Session Block C

​11. Valuation for Employee Ownership Deals

Presenters: John Davis, Davis & Hodgdon Associates; Michael McGinley, Prairie Capital Advisors

This session will begin with an overview of the process of determining the value of a company, with some examples of how the process works in practice.  We’ll then look at some additional considerations for ESOP valuations.  We will also discuss possible impacts of the coronavirus on business valuations and transactions.

12. Democracy at Work: Good Governance for Worker Cooperatives

Presenters: Joe Marraffino, Democracy at Work Institute; Hilary Martin, Digger’s Mirth Farm; Joel Beebe, The New School of Montpelier

Democratic governance is a core pillar of the co-op model, but doing it well is no simple thing. In this session Joe Marraffino of the Democracy at Work Institute will offer some key considerations on what good governance is, and what the special role of a board of directors is. Participants will then hear from representatives of one large and one small Vermont worker cooperative about their approaches to governance, before opening up the conversation to participants to explore best practices and diverse approaches to realizing the cooperative principle of “Democratic Member Control."

13. Strategies for Collaboration: A Conversation with Keynoter Blake Jones

Presenters: Blake Jones, Namaste Solar; interviewed by Matt Cropp of VEOC and Chris Mackin of Ownership Associates

This follow-up to the opening plenary will expand on themes from Blake Jones’ keynote, exploring diverse ways in which employee-owned companies can collaborate for increased success and impact, as well as how to cultivate supportive environments for employees to engage in such organizational entrepreneurship. The session will start in an interview format in conversation with Chris Mackin of Ownership Associates and Matt Cropp of the Vermont Employee Ownership Center, and then open up for questions from and discussion with attendees.

14. Engagement & Inclusion: You Can't Have One Without the Other

Presenters: Molly Mead, Praxis Consulting Group; Christie Kane, Gardener’s Supply Company; Alberto Aguilar, Carris Reels

It is well known that companies with high employee engagement outperform their competition. In this workshop we will make the connection to diversity and inclusion and offer practical ideas about how companies can become more inclusive with respect to race, gender, class and age.

15. Effective ESOP Boards: Responsibilities and Best Practices

Presenters: Ginny Vanderslice, Praxis Consulting Group; Rich Glassman, Schatz Brown Glassman LLP

ESOP companies are required to have Boards, but how do you structure your board to differentiate it from your senior leadership team and make it as useful to your company as possible?  This session will cover the legal responsibilities of a board, the relationship of the board to your trustee and to management as well as issues related to board composition and finding good members.  We will also discuss processes for developing an engaged board that knows what is going on in the company without getting involved in operational issues.

3:45-4:30: Wrap Up Session & Virtual Reception/Happy Hour

5:30-?: Informal in-person after-party on the Switchback Brewing company patio (COVID-19 permitting)

Register Here

Many Thanks to Our Sponsors, Whose Support Makes This Event Possible!