Biz Briefs: N.C. Employee Ownership Center prepares for business transitions

HIGH TECH: Physical therapist and co-founder of Next Level Rehab Robert McCloskey assists a patient who is paralized from the chest down to use robotic exoskeleton technology to stand, walk and exercise. Photo courtesy of Next Level Rehab

N.C. Employee Ownership Center prepares for business transitions

Just as the COVID-19 pandemic is waning in Western North Carolina, local businesses face another, slower-moving economic crisis. According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, around half of all privately held businesses with employees in WNC — roughly 14,000 firms — are owned by people over age 55. 

Many industries around the state are therefore bracing for a retirement wave as business owners reach their golden years. While some owners choose to sell their companies or pass them down to family members, others simply close up shop, potentially leaving thousands of employees without work.

Preventing those closures is the goal of the Durham-based N.C. Employee Ownership Center. The organization advocates for a model in which employees collectively own a percentage of the business for which they work. Business owners can contact the center, the first of its kind in the state, to learn more about the benefits of employee ownership, including tax benefits and job preservation.

According to the NCEOC, North Carolina is already home to approximately 154 employee-owned companies. More information available at

Tools of the (tech) trade

Goodwill Industries of WNC, in partnership with the Cybersecurity Youth Apprenticeship Initiative, is offering a new information technology job training program aimed at youth 16-21, with a focus on women and individuals of color. Goodwill will identify up to 60 participants from local high schools to learn IT skills and undergo workplace mentoring. For more information or to apply for the program, visit

In other local tech training news, Montreat College was awarded a grant from the N.C. Department of Information Technology to improve cyber readiness in the state. The college will use some of the funds to host a series of job training cohorts for students interested in a cybersecurity career. The first cohort starts Monday, July 12; North Carolina residents will receive 50% off program tuition. More information at

Tip of the hat

Brevard’s Gaia Herbs, which produces natural herbal products, has been recognized as a 2021 Best Employer in North Carolina by Business North Carolina magazine and the Best Companies Group. Employers were evaluated on workplace policies, practices, philosophy, systems and employee experience on a day-to-day basis. Gaia Herbs and 56 other companies in North Carolina will be featured and celebrated during the Best Employers in North Carolina Awards Gala in Greensboro on Thursday, Sept. 9.

Moving on up

Asheville-based apparel brand Mount Inspiration has opened its third retail location in Boulder, Colo. The company has also signed a lease at 444 Haywood Rd. in Asheville, the current location of outdoor adventure gear consignment shop Second Gear. The space will feature live screen printing, local draft beer, yoga classes, live music, local speakers and a selection of apparel and outdoor equipment. 

In addition to its Asheville and Boulder locations, the company plans to open stores in other mountain locales such as Bend, Ore., and Burlington, Vt.

Cutting edge

Next Level Rehab, an Asheville-based wellness and rehabilitation services provider, is offering robotic exoskeleton technology to improve patient mobility. The company says it is the first locally to use the tool, which aims to help people who cannot walk due to paralysis, stroke, traumatic brain injury or neuromuscular disorder retrain their brain and body. More information at


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