The International Center for Employee Ownership will provide a base for more effective education and advocacy
by Karen Kahn
The ESOP Association (TEA) and the Employee Ownership Foundation announced plans to open the International Center for Employee Ownership, a new headquarters on Capitol Hill that will support a robust program of advocacy and education. In addition to housing offices for TEA and foundation staff, the new space includes a conference facility, meeting rooms, and training spaces as well as a digital studio to produce broadcast quality audio-visual content for online sharing. With a rooftop deck overlooking the Capitol, it’s clear that TEA is making a move to increase its influence among the nation’s lawmakers.
TEA is in the process of launching an Employee Owners Action Network to lead its constituency advocacy on Capitol Hill.
James Bonham, president and CEO of TEA, said in a recent interview, the organization’s current space could not accommodate the growth he and the board envisioned—nor was it in a practical location. The new space at the newly developed Capitol Crossing Complex will allow TEA to educate and build relationships with lawmakers and their staff.
Bonham hopes to build a much stronger advocacy program by mobilizing the 10 million Americans who are ESOP participants. TEA is in the process of launching an Employee Owner Action Network to lead this effort. “Employee owners themselves are the best advocates,” says Bonham. But they need tools and support to develop messaging and relationships that can move the needle on state and federal policy.
“That takes organization, communication, and infrastructure,” says Bonham. The new center will make it all possible. When people can travel again, TEA is planning for multiple advocacy days during the year, involving training and briefings and then visits to local representatives on the Hill. The trade association will also be bringing Hill staff and lawmakers to the new center to hear from international and domestic non-profit and think tank experts who can deepen understanding of the benefits of employee ownership and spur action.
To set the stage for a more robust lobbying program, the Employee Ownership Foundation is collecting comprehensive data on the response of ESOPs to the pandemic as compared to conventional firms. In past recessions, ESOPs laid off fewer employees and recovered more quickly than other firms. ESOPs also have a strong local presence and cultures that are committed to their local communities, says Bonham. These are characteristics that he hopes can convince lawmakers to support legislation and regulatory frameworks that would incentivize more firms to set up ESOP trusts that offer real financial security to American workers.
“Over a year ago we began to examine the feasibility of a facility like this and what it could mean for the employee ownership community,” said Gary Shorman, chairman of the TEA Board of Directors, in a press release. “It has been thrilling to bring this from idea to reality, but even more exciting is what it will mean for employee ownership in the years to come. These facilities can be transformational for employee ownership in Washington, DC, and TEA’s ability to deliver the highest possible value to our current and future membership.”
Karen Kahn is a communications consultant and the editor of Employee Ownership News.