Brattleboro, VT – This month, after a forty-year career in architecture and design, including thirty years as the owner and lead architect of Austin Design, Bill Austin has retired, leaving the firm in the skilled hands of its employees to own and operate the business democratically as a worker-owned cooperative.
Bill Austin started the architecture firm Austin Design Inc., in Colrain, Massachusetts, in 1993, offering architecture services for a mix of residential and commercial clients, ranging from small renovations to large-scale new construction. Now operating primarily out of its office in southern Vermont, the firm has earned a reputation as the go-to firm in New England for craft breweries and boasts some of the region’s best-known names as its clients, including The Alchemist in Stowe and Lawson’s Finest Liquids in Waitsfield.
“Over the last several years, our office evolved into a tight, effective team serving our clients to the best of our abilities,” Austin said. “We developed an exceptional, if diverse, portfolio in affordable housing and craft breweries, among other areas of architectural design. During the last year, we developed a plan to create a worker-owned cooperative to take the reins of Austin Design Inc.”
Jen Kimmich, co-owner at The Alchemist, attested to the firm’s strong ethic of collaboration when it designed The Alchemist’s state-of-the-art production brewery and retail center in Stowe.
“We are not surprised to learn that Bill Austin has decided to transition Austin Design to an employee-owned model,” Kimmich said. “They were able to bring all of these things together because they worked so well as a team. I can only imagine this new employee-owned model will only bring this talented team closer together. We can’t wait to see what they do next!”
Ready to take the next step, Austin Design contacted the Vermont Employee Ownership Center in May 2021, holding an initial meeting with Executive Director Matt Cropp. Cropp helped put the wheels in motion by providing detailed information about worker ownership transitions and connecting the team with educational materials, existing worker co-ops, and the professional advisors who would guide the business throughout the conversion process.
According to Office Manager Chamois Holschuh, these resources proved invaluable. A little over a year after that initial meeting, Austin Design had determined the economic value of its business and assets, officially incorporated the cooperative, secured a loan to buy the business, and closed on the sale of the company. As of early September, Austin Design Cooperative, Inc., is officially up and running, marking the second worker-owned cooperative conversion in Vermont of this year.
“All ten members of our team signed onto Austin Design Cooperative, Inc., which is a great compliment to everyone involved,” Austin said. “ADCi is off to a great start taking over during the busiest, most prosperous year the company has ever had. I could not be happier!”
“I am still amazed that we had total buy-in from all the employees,” said Patrick Kitzmiller, architect. “It just speaks to the company culture and the tight-knit work family that we have created here. I can’t wait to see where this all leads us.”
Eight of Austin Design Cooperative Cooperative’s worker-owners are located in southern Vermont and two work across the state line in Greenfield, Massachusetts, a 30-minute drive south of the firm’s Brattleboro office.