What do Craft Beer and Solar Have in Common?

The Contagion Effect in Employee Ownership Conversion

By Marjorie Kelly, Executive Vice President and Senior Fellow, The Democracy Collaborative

When it comes to identifying low-hanging fruit for companies most ready to convert to employee ownership, the “contagion effect” can be a key strategy. One industry where this phenomenon is well known is craft beer, where the trend is poised to get a boost from legislation that was recently passed into law in Colorado. A second industry where the contagion effect is growing is the solar installation field, where the creation of a purchasing cooperative, Amicus Solar Cooperative, has helped inspire a half-dozen companies to follow the lead of Namaste Solar in becoming employee owned.

The contagion effect in the craft beer industry traces its genesis to examples like New Belgium Brewing of Ft. Collins, CO — the fourth largest craft brewer in the U.S. — which became 100 percent employee owned and helped spark similar moves by other craft brewers. Other employee-owned craft brewers include Odell Brewing of Fort Collins, CO; Left Hand Brewing of Longmont, CO; Deschutes Brewing of Bend, OR; Harpoon Brewery of Boston, MA; Switchback Brewery of Burlington, VT; and most recently, Beau’s All Natural Brewing Company of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

The success of employee ownership among craft brewers in Colorado helped inspire new legislation in Colorado, the “Encourage Employee Ownership of Existing Small Business Act,” signed into law last month. To encourage more small businesses to convert to employee ownership, the law calls for an establishment of a revolving loan fund and directs the state office of economic development to promote employee ownership as part of its small business assistance center. No state revenue would be involved.

The solar industry is also seeing a contagious excitement about employee ownership, thanks to the leadership of Blake Jones, the founder and president of Namaste Solar of Denver, CO, a worker-owned cooperative. Jones also helped lead the creation of Amicus Solar Cooperative, a purchasing cooperative with 40 business members who are solar PV development and installation companies. Amicus has made a conscious effort to educate its businesses about worker ownership, and there currently are four employee-owned companies in the group, with two more in the works.