Cleveland’s Cooperative Model

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Cleveland is playing host to an exciting experiment in employee-owned business, The Nation reports. The city’s Evergreen network debuted last fall with the LEED-certified Evergreen Cooperative Laundry in Cleveland’s Glenville neighborhood, where, The Nation notes, residents’ median income is around $18,000. “After a six-month initial ‘probationary’ period, employees begin to buy into the company through payroll deductions of 50 cents an hour over three years (for a total of $3,000),” The Nation explains. “Employee-owners are likely to build up a $65,000 equity stake in the business over eight to nine years–a substantial amount of money in one of the hardest-hit urban neighborhoods in the nation.”

Evergreen is also operating a solar-panel installation enterprise, Ohio Cooperative Solar, and hopes to open at least two more cooperatives in the near future: Green City Growers, a massive urban-food operation to be housed in a 230,000-square-foot hydroponic greenhouse, and the Neighborhood Voice, a community newspaper. All in all, The Nation reports, Evergreen hopes to launch 10 integrated companies, and create about 500 jobs, in the next five years.

The overall strategy is not only to go green but to design and position all the worker-owned co-ops as the greenest firms within their sectors. This is important in itself, but even more crucial is that the new green companies are aiming for a competitive advantage in getting the business of hospitals and other anchor institutions trying to shrink their carbon footprint. Far fewer green-collar jobs have been identified nationwide than had been hoped; and there is a danger that people are being trained and certified for work that doesn’t exist. The Evergreen strategy represents another approach–first build the green business and jobs and then recruit and train the workforce for these new positions (and give them an ownership stake to boot).

Community-development specialists in Baltimore, Detroit, and other cities are discussing the possibilities of adopting “the Cleveland model” elsewhere, and the story’s authors–Gar Alperovitz, Ted Howard, and Thad Williamson–dedicate some serious column space to imagining what that might look like.

Source: The Nation

Image by Wayne National Forest, licensed under Creative Commons.

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