New Data Reveals Twin Crises from Silver Tsunami and COVID-19 in Minnesota


Six out of ten Minnesota business owners plan to sell in the next decade

Minnesota —Today, the Minnesota Center for Employee Ownership (MNCEO) released new data that reveals twin crises from the Silver Tsunami coupled with COVID-19 for businesses across Minnesota. Developed by Project Equity, the study shows that approximately 50% of all job-creating businesses in Minnesota (53,000) are owned by baby boomers. It is estimated that 60% of these businesses plan to transfer ownership in the next decade and COVID-19 has accelerated this timeline for many. The study results are presented on a county by county basis at

Affecting approximately 600,000 Minnesota employees and with nearly $124 billion in generated revenue at stake, the Minnesota Center for Employee Ownership, Project Equity and Twin Cities-based Nexus Community Partners are joining together in an effort to greatly expand the number of employee owned businesses in the state to stem the tide of the Silver Tsunami and the fall out from COVID-19.  MNCEO aims to engage community leaders and state and local government officials about employee ownership as a way to preserve these at-risk businesses, provide local quality jobs, strengthen the community’s economic resiliency, and create equity and wealth for all employees regardless of their race, ethnicity or education.

“The timing is crucial to educate business owners across Minnesota and to provide resources to help them navigate their options,” said Sue Crockett, Executive Director of the MNCEO, a nonprofit that serves as the central hub for information on employee ownership in Minnesota. “Each year, Minnesota ranks in the top ten in the number of employee-owned companies across the country. We’re on a mission to continue the momentum by turning the entire state of Minnesota into a place where every working person can also be an employee-owner.”

Roger Ryberg, former owner of Windings, Inc. in New Ulm, Minnesota, identified employee ownership as a pathway to retirement by choosing an ESOP (Employee Stock Ownership Plan) model. His daughters were not interested in assuming management responsibility in the 100-person manufacturing company, and he did not want to walk away. Employee ownership allowed him to sell the business on his own timeline, preserve jobs and keep the company rooted in the community.

“Transitioning a business you have grown from scratch is not only a financial transaction, but an emotional experience. Employee ownership kept my company anchored in New Ulm, retained valued employees, and provided opportunity for growth, not to mention the financial benefits the employees have gained over the years,” states Roger Ryberg. Due to the strong culture of employee ownership, Windings, Inc. was better able to weather the COVID-19 economic downturn.

“What businesses are experiencing in Minnesota is reflected across the country. As half of all business owners near retirement age, most do not have an exit strategy for what will happen to their business and employees once they retire. Employee ownership creates a roadmap for resiliency,” stated Alison Lingane, co-founder of Project Equity.

“This moment is an opportunity to grow and perpetuate community wealth by teaming up with government and community leaders to expand opportunities for business ownership,” said Benjamin Tsai, Director of Community Wealth Building at Nexus Community Partners, a nonprofit that helps businesses transition to employee ownership, with an expertise in worker-owned cooperatives.


Minnesota Center for Employee Ownership

The Minnesota Employee Ownership Center (MNCEO), a member of the Employee Ownership Expansion Network of state centers,  serves the entire state of Minnesota as the central hub for free, unbiased information on employee-ownership. Its primary mission is to educate business owners and their advisors on the benefits of employee ownership. MNCEO provides resources, case studies, articles, and a list of service providers who can assist with employee ownership transitions.

Project Equity

Project Equity is a national leader in the movement to harness employee ownership to maintain thriving local business communities, honor selling owners’ legacies and address income and wealth inequality. Project Equity works with partners around the country to raise awareness about employee ownership as an exit strategy for business owners, and provides hands-on consulting and support to companies that want to transition to employee ownership.

Nexus Community Partners

Nexus Community Partners, based in the Twin Cities, works to build a more inclusive economy for communities of color. The Nexus Worker Ownership Initiative helps business owners with succession planning and specializes in exploring the benefits of incorporating employee ownership into their transition plans.

For Immediate Release

Sue Crockett
Mobile: 612-590-1191

January 9, 2020

Contacts: Theresa Gardella
Vice President of Programs and Operations Nexus Community Partners

Erin Jerabek Heelan
Consultant, WOI Nexus Community Partners

New Year Brings Employee Ownership to Happy Earth Cleaning

Happy Earth Cleaning LLC is the first employee-owned cleaning company in Minneapolis

The new year began at Happy Earth Cleaning with employee ownership. Marion and Jesse Dunbar, founders of Happy Earth Cleaning, completed the sale of the business to their employees on December 30, 2019, and new ownership took effect on January 1, 2020. Five staff members became employee-owners with a plan for additional owners over time.

In 2010, Marion founded Happy Earth Cleaning LLC in Minneapolis, MN, with a mission of providing environmentally-safe cleaning with a people-first culture. In the beginning, Marion was the only staff member: she did all the cleaning, management and client cultivation. In 2013, her husband Jesse joined the business. Today, Happy Earth Cleaning has 19 employees, and they pride themselves on their culture and community impact. This includes participating in community events, offering full-time employment to their staff, and now employee ownership.

In 2018, Marion and Jesse needed to create a succession plan for the business because they decided to move back to their hometown of Seattle, Washington. They valued the unique “people first” culture that they had built in an industry that has been known to exploit its workers, and employee ownership was something Marion had always envisioned for the business.

Additionally, they didn’t want a new owner to dismantle their culture or take their customer list and lay off their employees. These aspirations and concerns fueled a desire to explore employee ownership as part of their succession planning.

In search of answers, Marion, Jesse, and a core group of employees took a nine-week course through the City of Minneapolis Co-op Technical Assistance Program (CTAP). The course helped them understand co-op development and solidified their choice that transitioning to employee ownership was the right choice for the business.

To help with the business transition, Happy Earth Cleaning connected with Nexus Community Partners and Project Equity. “We worked with Nexus and Project Equity to sell to our employees because they provided us with the knowledge, expertise and guidance to ensure our team was set up for success after our departure,” Marion said. “It gave us the confidence to know we are doing the right thing for the employees and ourselves.” In addition to the help from

Nexus Community Partners and Project Equity, the new owners received finance and business plan training from Neighborhood Development Center, and the sale was financed locally through Shared Capital Cooperative.

Nexus and Project Equity formed a partnership to respond to the changing business landscape in the Twin Cities region. A Project Equity data analysis shows that in the Twin Cities Metro alone, an estimated 26,180 businesses are owned by baby boomers. Over 80% of the owners have no succession plans. The partners believe employee ownership provides a solution that keeps businesses and jobs rooted locally. For Nexus, employee ownership is part of a larger initiative that seeks to build community wealth. “The model is not only good for business, it’s good for workers and good for our communities,” said Elena Gaarder, Director of Community Wealth Building at Nexus. Marion and Jesse do not fit the “baby boomer” profile that this initiative was originally created to target, yet, they are part of a growing number of entrepreneurs that are environmentally and/or socially-minded who want to leave a legacy when they choose to exit their business.

Ten years after its conception, the Happy Earth Cleaning team has made history by becoming the first employee-owned cleaning company in Minneapolis. They credit their philosophy and culture with the reason they have been able to retain employees and build a strong client base. Through their efforts, they’ve shown how employee-owned initiatives can lead to a happy team. It’s a new year for employees at Happy Earth Cleaning as they celebrate employee ownership. Zach Dennis, Happy Earth’s Dispatcher, has been serving on the cooperative development team with four of his colleagues. He shared, “I think employee ownership is a valuable opportunity to have a democratically controlled workplace allowing for worker control over growth, wages and benefits that directly affect employees.”


Happy Earth Cleaning Employee Ownership Case study

About Happy Earth Cleaning: Happy Earth is “A People Company that Cleans.” Their business philosophy recognizes the intersectionality between a happy planet, happy community, and happy people – employees and customers. Happy Earth stays true to this philosophy by using environmentally friendly products, participating in community events, and offering full-time employment to their staff. They credit their philosophy and culture with the reason they have been able to retain employees and build a strong client base.

Read the case study.

Facebook @HappyEarthCleaning Twitter: @HappyEarthClean Instagram: @happyearthcleaning

About Nexus Community Partners: Nexus is a community building intermediary that works at the intersection of philanthropy, government, community development and community leaders. The organization builds strong, equitable and just communities in which all residents are engaged, are recognized as leaders and have pathways to ownership opportunities. Nexus supports efforts that build strong, local economies and provides services to business owners and their employees to transition to worker cooperatives.

About Project Equity: Project Equity is a national leader in the movement to harness employee ownership to maintain thriving local business communities, honor selling business owners’ legacies, and address income and wealth inequality. Headquartered in the San Francisco Bay Area, Project Equity works locally and with partners around the country to raise awareness about employee ownership as an exit strategy for business owners, and as an important approach for increasing employee engagement and wellbeing. A nonprofit organization, Project Equity provides hands on consulting and support to companies that want to transition to employee ownership, as well as to the new employee-owners to ensure that they, and their businesses, thrive after the transition. Read more at