In 2016, TimberHomes changed its by-laws to become a worker owned cooperative. The impetus for this change was the desire to increase TimberHomes’ ability to retain the talented employees that it had attracted. By allowing long term employees to “buy-in”, TimberHomes’ owners have grown from 3 to 6 in the two and half years since the by-law change was made. Within the next two years, it’s reasonable to expect that that number will grow by at least another three members.
Recently TimberHomes joined the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives (USFWC), a nation wide advocacy group which promotes democracy in the workplace, stable business models, and social and economic justice for historically marginalized groups. Playing a supporting role to its member cooperatives, the USFWC consults and educates its members on company policy and best management practices. It also offers dental and vision insurance.
Another potential benefit from USFWC membership is the the value of networking between the member coops. Being a national organization, its members span a large spectrum, both in terms of size and industry type. Though small, Vermont is well represented with a number of businesses that have joined. Among them, Catamount Solar and New Frameworks are not only colleagues, but friends and occasional collaborators.
Though relatively new to the cooperative world, TimberHomes recently became even more aware of the potentially enormous benefit of having made the switch to becoming worker owned. Later this season, TimberHomes intends to build a new shop in Montpelier to enable the company to keep up with current demand for timber frames and outdoor structures. Though it’s not yet 100% certain, it appears quite likely that the Cooperative Fund of New England (CFNE) will be loaning TimberHomes the needed funds for the building project.
The Cooperative Fund of New England, while functioning like a bank, is civic minded in its lending practices towards community based organizations, non-profits, and cooperatives of all sorts. CFNE does its utmost to help its client organizations, both large and small, achieve their goals through favorable terms and a humanistic approach. While competitive with traditional lenders in terms of rates, CFNE is more willing than traditional lenders to allow their notes to be amortized on a longer term basis than the typical 15 year commercial loan norm.
For TimberHomes, the amortization aspect is crucial in allowing the company to build as large a shop as possible. Stretching out the loan’s payback over a longer period of time will make the burden of the new shop easier to manage and allow the company flexibility in the future. With hard work and some luck, TimberHomes will hopefully become the standout example of a successful a worker owned business that the USFCW and CFNE envision.