A speaker for a national group said Friday that Vermont businesses should consider selling to their employees as a way to help them build assets and reduce wealth inequality. Marjorie Kelly, from the Democracy Collaborative, said businesses across the country whose owners are retiring have an opportunity to transition to employee ownership.

Kelly spoke at the annual Vermont Employee Ownership Conference at the University of Vermont in Burlington. The Democracy Collaborative is trying to spur 50 million employees across the country to take an ownership stake in the businesses they work for by 2050. “It takes a job to get out of poverty; it takes assets to stay out of poverty,” Kelly said in an interview. “Forty-six percent of Americans cannot pull together $400 in an emergency, and so when you begin to spread assets into hands of ordinary people, then you’re starting to have a more stable economy.”

“It’s assets that enable you to weather unemployment or deal with an emergency or send a kid to college, or buy a home,” she said. “And so employee ownership is a proven way to get assets into the hands of ordinary people, ordinary employees, including home care employees.” The Vermont Employee Ownership Center says 50 to 60 companies in the state are employee-owned. In 2016, there were a total of 21,192 companies in Vermont, according to the state Labor Department.

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