Skip Navigation LinksHome > Co-op Topics > Cooperative Conversion & Employee Ownership

Cooperative Conversion and Employee Ownership

Business Succession and Retention: Employee Ownership Solutions
April 20, 2017 in Cottage Grove, Wisconsin

Attend this workshop presented by the University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives to learn about employee ownership as an effective method for keeping businesses, jobs, and wealth in local communities.

Yard and a half landscapingOver the next two decades, an estimated 70 percent of privately held businesses will change hands, many as a result of retiring baby boomers. Who will take over these business and will they remain in their communities? Converting businesses to employee or consumer ownership is gaining traction as an effective method for retaining businesses, jobs, and wealth in local communities.

Business conversions  can take many forms including transitioning to a worker cooperative, a consumer cooperative, or an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP). If you’re interested in learning more about converting a business to employee or consumer ownership, please contact Courtney Berner at or (608) 890-0966.

Successful Cooperative Ownership Transitions: Case Studies on the Conversion of Privately HeldSuccessful Cooperative Ownership cover Businesses to Worker Cooperatives by University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperative and Democracy at Work Institute
Technical Service and Professional Services Providers for Employee Owned Businesses in the Upper Midwest

Converting Existing Business to Worker Cooperatives, an interview with Melissa Hoover from the U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives

Startup Resources for Worker Cooperatives  Democracy at Work Institute/US Federation of Worker Cooperatives

In Good Company: The Guide to Cooperative Employee Ownership by Margaret Lund
Business Conversions to Worker Cooperatives: Insights and Readiness Factors for Owners and Employees by Alison Ligane and Shannon Rieger

Worker Cooperatives: Pathways to Scale by Hilary Abell

Buying a Business to Start a Co-op: A Case Study of Food Co-op Conversions by Patricia Cumbie

Examples of Successful Conversions to Employee Ownership

Four Star Video Cooperative is a Madison-based worker cooperative that offers a diverse video rental library that focuses on foreign language, anime, independent and documentary film.

Isthmus Engineering and Manufacturing is a worker cooperative that specializes in custom automation solutions and equipment

Namaste Solar is a Colorado-based employee owned cooperative that designs, installs, and maintains solar electric systems.

Realityworks, Inc. is an Eau Claire-based company that produces experiential learning technology that gives users life like experience through their simulations. Realityworks successfully converted to an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) structure.

Terra Firma Building and Remodeling is a custom remodeling company serving the Twin Cities metropolitan area that converted to a worker cooperative structure.

A Yard & a Half Landscaping is a worker cooperative that provides organic landscaping services

Wisconsin Natural Heritage Cooperative is a worker cooperative that collects, analyzes and manages rare species data.

Examples of Succesful Conversion to Consumer Cooperative Ownership

Honey Creek Market is a consumer owned grocery store in Plain, Wisconsin.

Old Creamery Co-op, Cummington, Massachusetts

Placerville Natural Foods Co-op, Placerville, California


UWCC convened the seminar Employee Ownership: A Business Retention Strategy on April 8th in Madison, Wisconsin. The event brought together over 40 economic developers and business owners who learned more about the different employee ownership structures and how they can used in their communities. The seminar featured a panel of representatives from employee owned firms including Namasté Solar CEO Blake Jones, Realityworks CFO Mary Stenvig, and Marty Ruddy, the founder and co-owner of Terra Firma Building and Remodeling. Panelists described the motivation for converting their business to employee ownership and how the transition has affected their company’s structure, culture, and bottom line. Participants also heard from economic developers, cooperative developers, attorneys, and consultants who have helped structure business conversions. The event concluded with a tour of Isthmus Engineering and Manufacturing, a worker cooperative that specializes in custom automation solutions and equipment. Presentations from the event can be accessed by clicking on the speakers name.