Chroma co-founder backs employee ownership

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Wednesday, November 26
ROCKINGHAM -- Chroma Technology co-founder Paul Millman doesn't think that encouraging employee ownership of businesses around Vermont will take care of all of the economic ills that are confronting the state.

But helping more employees to become owners of the companies they now work for is one way to keep jobs in the state, and as the newly appointed president of the Vermont Employee Ownership Center, Millman said he is going to make it a priority to help more businesses make the switch to employee ownership and then support them once the change is made.

Millman, earlier this month, was elected as the president of the board of the statewide nonprofit organization that promotes employee ownership and helps workers and business owners make the transition.

"I believe in employee ownership and I think it is great for business in Vermont," Millman said. "I believe the people who do the work should share in the success of a business."

Chroma Technology is one of the largest employee owned businesses in the state.

Millman has been involved with the Vermont Employee Ownership Center for a number of years, and now, as the board president, will help direct the organization.

When businesses start having trouble and look into moving out of state, it is sometimes too late to initiate discussions of selling the business to the people who are already working there.

Millman said he wants to do a better job of finding those businesses before they are ready to move and reaching the owners while it still might be possible to encourage them to sell to the employees.

When a company makes the transition from individual to employee ownership a whole new set of challenges arise, and Millman said he also wants to concentrate on supporting employee owned companies in those crucial first few years when they are operating under a new structure.

Vermont is one of only three states in the country with an organization that helps support employee owned business. The other two states are Ohio and Massachusetts.

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Vermont Employee Ownership Center Executive Director Jon Crystal said Millman is expected to be an effective president considering his history as part owner of Chroma Technology.

"Paul has a unique perspective coming from an employee owned company," Crystal said. "He has lived through many of the issues and knows what it is like to work in an employee owned company. He knows the challenges and know how to address them."

Millman said that even with an unsure economy, it could be a good time for business owners to sell their companies to their employees.

Owners who are looking to sell their business might find it easier to sell to the employees instead of finding banks and other investors.

And Millman also said that if the economy continues to sour and business owners are looking to get out, then there could be more opportunities for employee ownership.

"If the company is financially sound, then employee ownership is less of a risk," Millman said. "Employee owned businesses are much more efficient and they tend to pay the money back they owe. Employees that town the business have more at stake and have more incentive to keep their jobs alive."

Ursula Jones, the communications manager at the Vermont Employee Ownership Center, said that as president of the board Millman will help set the agenda for the coming year.

The state has seen dozens of jobs leave over the past few months and she hopes the organization will extend its programs and increase employee ownership as a strategy to keep more companies from leaving.

"We really want to be sustainable in the long term and increase the number of employee owned companies in Vermont," said Jones. "Vermont has taken the lead on this issue and we see this as a gateway to growing the economy and keeping good paying jobs in the state."

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at hwtisman@reform-er.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 279.


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