Forres company AES Solar is taking steps towards becoming employee-owned as it looks to continue its growth.
The firm, which has been run by owner and managing director George Goudsmit since 1989, has secured funding of up to £50,000 from development agency Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) to help prepare for the move.
The funding will be used to set up an employee ownership trust as well as graduate placement projects and a company-wide training scheme.
Launched in 1979, AES is one of longest running solar thermal manufacturers in western Europe and employs around 18 people.
It is the only firm of its kind in Scotland to design and make its own solar thermal panels, as well as specialising in the installation of solar thermal and solar photovoltaic (PV) systems.
HIE helped the company carry out a feasibility study to examine potential future ownership structures, governance, management and how a transition could occur and an employee ownership trust was selected as the preferred option.
HIE said the move would give employees a “meaningful stake” in the business, helping to safeguard the business and ensure it “remains in Moray and contributes to the local economy.” The agency added that employee ownership was also considered a good “exit solution” for Mr Goudsmit.
Scott McKnockiter, HIE business development account manager, said: “Demand for renewable energy solutions, such as those produced by AES Solar, is likely to increase significantly as we move towards a carbon neutral economy.
“This investment will help the company to benefit from this increase in demand and boost its international market share. This will also strengthen the company’s status as an employer of good quality jobs in Forres.
“I am very pleased we have been able to provide this support and look forward to continuing to work with the firm as they implement their ambitious plans.”
Mr Goudsmit added: “We are extremely thankful for the ongoing support and working relationship we have developed with HIE over the years. It is a pleasure to work with Scott and the team at HIE who are always available to offer feedback and advice. Working with HIE allows us to benefit from and contribute to being part of this unique centre of local expertise.
“We are very hopeful for the future at AES Solar and know we will grow from strength to strength when these exciting business developments get underway.”
The graduate placement projects will lead to AES hiring two graduate level employees on an initial 12-month basis, with a view to them going on to become permanent members of staff.
The company-wide training scheme is aimed at strengthening the firm’s “technical, business and people skills” over a two-year period. Its development follows a “skills for growth” audit arranged by HIE through Skills Development Scotland.
AES has an established track record in research and development in the solar energy sector and has worked in partnership with academic institutions and companies around the world.
In 2019, the firm secured funding of up to £196,700 from HIE to aid its expansion.