Part 1 in this four-part series on projects outside the Hudson Valley explored how cities are using economic development funds and grassroots organizing to support the organic growth of worker-owned cooperatives. A different approach was taken in Cleveland. In 2008, the Cleveland Foundation convened a meeting of local anchor institutions, including the Cleveland Clinic, Case Western Reserve, and University Hospitals, to explore how they could address the severe poverty and unemployment in the neighborhoods surrounding the hospitals. Rather try to attract businesses with traditional incentives — which all too often yields temporary benefits at best — they decided to build new, neighborhood-based worker cooperatives that would provide good jobs, with the anchor institutions as the first customers.
Evergreen Cooperative Laundry opened in 2009, with the goal of serving the hospitals’ laundry needs. Evergreen Energy Solutions, which installs solar panel and LED lights, followed soon after, completing a solar installation for the Cleveland Clinic as one of its first major jobs. Green City Growers, a 3.25 acre hydroponic greenhouse providing year-round local lettuce, greens, and herbs, launched in 2013. A fourth company, Evergreen Business Services, provides human resources, finance, marketing, and business development services to all three cooperatives, and aims to bring more cooperatives into the Evergreen network.
Today the three Evergreen businesses employ more than 200 workers.
Today the three Evergreen businesses employ more than 200 workers, two-thirds of whom have become worker-owners. A recent expansion of the laundry into a second facility, which will serve all of the Cleveland Clinic’s laundry needs, is expected to add another 100 workers. And the coops have been diversifying their customer base. Prior to the laundry expansion, the original anchor customers constituted only 15 percent of total revenue.
Rochester, NY is one of several cities aiming to follow Cleveland’s lead. The city worked with the Democracy Collaborative, which also supported Evergreen, to conduct a feasibility analysis and create an implementation plan. The resulting organization, Own Rochester, launched its first cooperative business in 2017. ENEROC provides LED and solar installations and is working on a lights retrofit at Rochester General Hospital. Other business opportunities Own Rochester is considering include a food processing facility to supply local hospitals, colleges, and universities, and a van pool service to help get city residents to jobs in the suburbs.
In Springfield, Massachusetts, Wellspring Cooperative is pursuing more of a hybrid approach to coop development. Wellspring began with the support and collaboration of local hospitals and schools, and several Wellspring businesses continue to serve these institutions, Wellspring is now also incubating bottom-up coop development, driven by the interests and business ideas of community members and participants in its coop academy.
Other cities are looking at directing more of their own procurement to support worker cooperatives.The city of Berkeley, California has passed a resolution directing its City Manager to revise the city’s current Buy Local preference system to include preferences for worker coops. Oakland is considering a similar measure.
The Democracy Collaborative is now supporting pursuit of anchor-led community wealth-building strategies in more than 40 cities through its Health Anchor Network and Anchor Collaborative Network. With our many hospitals, universities, and community-centered foundations, the Hudson Valley could be another promising location for anchor customer-led cooperative development.