Cities Developing Worker Co-ops

From P2P Foundation
Jump to navigation Jump to search

* Imagined Economy Project report: Cities Developing Worker Co-ops: Efforts in Ten Cities. By Michelle Camou, 2016


"explores how city governments are thinking about their strengths in making worker co-ops structural features of local markets"


"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, Ohio

"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.

The main way the City of Cleveland assisted the initiative was by accessing millions of dollars in federal guaranteed loans and some federal grant funds as startup capital for the Evergreen Cooperatives. In so doing, the city produced the contours of one municipal approach to worker co-op development, termed the anchor approach in the report, whereby the city government role is mainly to finance startups and resolve underwriting risks in what are considered unconventional projects. In Cleveland, Nichols used tax increment financing and set aside the non-school portion of payments in lieu of taxes as a debt reserve for loan repayment to minimize risks to the city." (

New York City

"New York City is the nation’s second large scale municipal effort to bolster worker cooperative development locally. Instead of helping build worker cooperatives as part of anchor institution supply chains, New York is one of five cities taking an ecosystem development approach in the vein of the Democracy at Work Institute (DAWI). A worker cooperative ecosystem, according to a Democracy At Work Institute and Project Equity report, is a series of interacting elements including but not limited to cultural/entrepreneurial familiarity with worker co-ops, supportive laws, customers, capital, technical assistance, and professional service providers that help worker cooperatives emerge and survive. As part of its Worker Cooperative Business Development Initiative, New York committed to funding a collaborative of cooperatives — there were eleven funded in 2015 and fourteen in 2016 — to spread general awareness of the worker cooperative business form, incubate new or converted worker co-ops, and support existing worker co-ops with matters like drafting by-laws, accounting, Board development, and employee participation strategies. The City itself also became part of the ecosystem when it began offering a “10 Steps to Starting a Worker Cooperative” course through its Small Business Services Solution Centers." (

Source Article

  • When citing this article, please use the following format:

Michelle Camou (2016). How Urban Governments Promote Worker Co-ops. Grassroots Economic Organizing (GEO).