Popular Resistance - City governments are shaping up as key actors accelerating worker co-op development. It started in 2009 when the City of Cleveland accessed a federal guaranteed loan to help finance the Evergreen Cooperatives. Since then, nine more city governments have moved to promote worker cooperatives through municipal projects, initiatives, or policies because they want to reach people and communities often left out of mainstream economic development. Other city governments including Philadelphia are considering it now.
Getting worker cooperatives to the scale of being a real market alternative will take time, energy, and the sort of experimentation we are seeing from these ten cities. A recent Imagined Economy Project report, Cities Developing Worker Co-ops: Efforts in Ten Cities, explores how city governments are thinking about their strengths in making worker co-ops structural features of local markets.
Traditional economic development, said Madison, Wisconsin’s Ruth Rohlich in the report, “isn’t helpful in creating really healthy communities, financially strong communities, in an equitable way.” Worker ownership may be a way forward, and city experiences right now will help municipalities decide how worker co-ops may become long-term features of their economic development agendas. To commit to worker cooperative development long term, the cities will need to see modest growth in jobs and business ventures resulting from their current efforts and may benefit from input and insights from worker cooperatives as they continue to adjust their sense of best practices. Cleveland and New York Leading the Way through Distinct Approaches to Worker Co-op Development
The City of Cleveland ventured into worker co-op development in response to a Cleveland Foundation initiative to set up a network of worker cooperatives connected under a corporate umbrella that planned to supply needed goods or services to hospitals, universities, or other anchor institutions. “I heard about it just in passing,” said Cleveland’s Economic Development Director Tracey Nichols quoted in the report, and the word of mouth led to the first instance of a city getting involved in worker cooperatives in a big way.