The measure, co-sponsored by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), is intended to expand financing options and raise awareness for programs that can help employees become partial owners of the companies where they work.
The new provision could also help address what has been called a “silver tsunami” of retiring baby boomer business owners. Much has been made of what that generation’s departure from the workforce will mean — a loss of institutional knowledge, a shift in the job market and a drain on Social Security. But less attention has been paid to the wave of retiring boomers who own closely held private businesses. They will need to sell their companies, transition them to a new generation of owners — or risk shutting them down, cutting jobs in the process.
The provision, known as the Main Street Employee Ownership Act before it was added to this year’s defense bill, will make it possible for firms to use Small Business Administration loans to finance what’s known as employee stock ownership plans, or ESOPs, an arrangement that can help transfer ownership of the company to employees rather than have to find a suitable buyer or rely on family members who may be ill-suited or unprepared to keep the lights on.
In an ESOP, companies get tax incentives to either set up a trust fund into which they contribute shares or to finance the purchase of shares through a loan. Companies then give shares to all employees in amounts based on their relative pay or on a more equal basis.