Rustbelt Recovery: Cleveland's Worker-Owner Co-op Boom

Submitted by Eternity on Tue, 12/08/2009 - 22:49.

Yes Magazine! - This June, the doors will open at the Evergreen Cooperative Laundry, a state-of-the-art, nearly $6 million facility in Cleveland, Ohio.

What’s so special about this laundry? In a word, ownership. The business will be 100 percent owned by its 50 employees, virtually all of whom live in the surrounding community. Life is tough in this neighborhood, where the poverty rate exceeded 30 percent and thousands of homes lay stripped and abandoned even before the current recession began.

In the midst of this urban distress, the Evergreen Laundry employee-owners will earn a living wage and health benefits. As members of the co-op, they will enjoy greater job security than workers at more traditional businesses, and, after seven years on the job, they will have built an ownership stake of as much as $65,000.

The laundry is the flagship of a wider network of Evergreen Cooperative businesses, part of an effort to transform the quality of life for Cleveland’s low- and moderate-income residents.

While its planners—the Cleveland Foundation, the Ohio Employee Ownership Center at Kent State University, ShoreBank Enterprise and others—drew on experiences gained in cities around the country, the Evergreen initiative represents some important firsts. It is the first attempt to bring together the economic power of “anchor institutions”—universities and hospitals, in this case—that have a long-term commitment to the city. Instead of luring outside corporations with promises of tax breaks and lax standards for labor and environmental practices, the Evergreen strategy develops home-grown worker-owned enterprises that can offer ongoing services to these anchor institutions.

This represents the first significant effort to create green jobs that not only pay a decent wage, but also build assets and wealth for employees, since they are not only workers, but also owners. If successful, this initiative could become a national model.  Read more.


It is interesting to watch our Foundations in action

Thanks for pointing this out, Eternity...

Being from Atlanta, you wouldn't know about our leadership here, but this is a product placement... against Real Coop (us).

The Cleveland Foundation controlled leaders here have been against REALNEO/REAL COOP since we became vocal about lead poisoning in Northeast Ohio (foundation folks LOVE Sherwin Williams), and they all have devised their own "co-op" strategy to screw with us... not their first abuse of our public trust in them, and certainly not their last.

Our foundation folks have become masters of abusing intellectual property, controlling the media (even outside Northeast Ohio) and funding self-promotion... they corrupt good initiatives and write books, articles, and even produce films about their exploits... such smoke and mirrors helps their economy, as all that puffery brings them "donations" and control of our tax dollars.

Where is credit in this article to Ronn Richards, Lilian Kuri, Chris Ronayne and Brad Whitehead, in the byline... oh yeah "Democracy Collaborative worked with the Greater University Circle Initiative on the development and implementation of this economic development strategy"...

About the authors of this article:

Ted Howard, Steve Dubb, and Gar Alperowitz wrote this article as part of The New Economy, the Summer 2009 issue of YES! Magazine. Ted is the executive director of The Democracy Collaborative at the University of Maryland. Steve is the senior research associate of The Democracy Collaborative. Gar is the Lionel Bauman Professor of Political Economy at the University of Maryland and the author of Unjust Deserts. The Democracy Collaborative worked with the Greater University Circle Initiative on the development and implementation of this economic development strategy.

As a founder of Real Coop, harmed rather than supported by these supposed "champions" of "co-ops", I'm not impressed by any of this and am in ways hurt and disturbed - to be further investigated and explained as we develop real co-op outside of unreal NEO, and grow real presence in places like Atlanta, not so easily green-washed and brain-washed by the old-guard establishment (I hope).

Disrupt IT

Thanks, Max

 Thanks to Eternity in Atlanta for letting us Clevelanders in on what is happening. I first read with excitement that became tempered with reality given the Foundation, UH, and the CCF involvement, then the $1.5 low interest loan from the City that passed legislation last night to impose a new tax on residents for trash pick up. But all that aside, maybe there is hope and a coop will really work. We have to start somewhere, and some small coops have failed over the years locally. Perhaps this larger effort will work and give rise to more worker owned business in the area. The green initiatives pay homage to ground work laid by the path seekers even if they are not acknowledged. The fact that it is a given as part of this speaks loudly. Push onward!


It's interesting to me that the Foundations and fake-green folks are using the NYT and media outlets in Atlanta to cloak their chicanery...You are what others see in you??  That only works for so long.  Can't break all the mirrors in the US.

I've been shocked by the NYTimes

I have stopped reading the NYTimes, as well as the PD, for their dishonesty covering Cleveland... the Times has a plant from here (used to work for the Freee Times, I believe) who writes such lovely stories about our artsy fartsy folks and their great accomplishments... it just makes me want to move here... oh yeah, I actually woke up here!.

Newspaper editors, it does not help to blow smoke up citizens' asses, no matter what you learned in trade school!

Try writing the truth.

Disrupt IT

Yes and Yes: Is this all bad?

Perhaps not living in Cleveland, I don't fully grasp the net effect of this particular set of events, but I tend to agree with dwebb, as she points out in her comment above saying in part:

"maybe there is hope and a coop will really work. We have to start somewhere, and some small coops have failed over the years locally. Perhaps this larger effort will work and give rise to more worker owned business in the area. The green initiatives pay homage to ground work laid by the path seekers even if they are not acknowledged. The fact that it is a given as part of this speaks loudly. Push onward!"

Norm, Laura, is this true?  Do you all think Debbie has a valid point?  Can it be that in this "corrupt" reality...that some good shines through?  And Debbie, what else might you add to bolster your belief that perhaps indeed, there is a silver lining here?

I need to better understand this, and specifically I ask about this because in Atlanta, a few years back, there was a controversy over a big chunk of money being given to a group of big museums that typically serve those on the upper side of the middle-class.  Some artists and art advocates cried foul because they felt that the well-to-do didn't need more millions, essentially saying that that money should have gone to the smaller arts organizations, independent theatres, after school programs and freelancers.  I was torn over this, because while I totally agreed with the grassroots crowd, in the end I decided that the money didn't cause harm to anyone by going to the big museums, because at the end of the day those organizations need money too. 

I love art...all art, regardless of where it's housed.  And from being a docent in a museum before, I am very much aware that it's very expensive to keep a multi-storied, high-end arts facility up-and-running.  So they really did need the money.

Of course the money should have been split and distributed more effectively, but it wasn't, which is wrong.  HOWEVER, ultimately we are all better served just to have the money...any increase in funding.

I deal with this type of frustration all the time.

Atlanta just got a new mayor, Kasim Reed, and I hear that he's a big fan of the arts, after school programs and other human investment programs.  We'll see.


depends on what you are looking for from a community and leaders

We have a great example like what you mention of Atlanta...

The powers that be here got citizens to tax smokers for the arts, which raises like $20 million a year that has largely gone to the favored arts charities of the elite - Cleveland Museum, Orchestra, etc. One may say, at least there is money going to these causes, but this is really an off-loading of responsibilities from the elite, who really love those elite arts places (and parties, being on boards of them, etc). The rich and elite established them, "own" and manage them (how well, we do not know), and have historically funded them in excess of sustainability through corporate and private donations (tax deductible) and through their foundations (tax shelters).

As the Cleveland elite move their money and family assets to Florida and Arizona, and their kids stay far away, they are gutting the elite economy and leave behind an elite infrastructure they are no longer willing to fund, and the nouveau-rich show little interest to adopt - some elite causes are shutting down, some are consolidating, and some are being forced on citizens, even though we do not benefit very freely and directly... at least not at the level of the elite.

Then, we must consider the opportunity costs of the elite's model. $20 million to help the elite sleep better at night, or $20 million to help inner city children get art supplies and access to arts education?!?! Which would be a better use of Cancer-causing taxes, if such a tax should exist at all.

As tax on smoking is a tax on the poor - I opposed the tax, and the use of the funding for elite arts causes at all... helping smokers quit would make more sense.

As the elite feel by taxing smokers they have lessened their responsibilities to fund the elite infrastructure they built, they use their philanthropic money to control the regional economy - through their Fund For Our Economic Future, Third Frontier, Strategic Investment Initiative, etc. - largely through controlling public funding related to real estate development around the elite infrastructure they control, with private parties sidcar'ing every land grab and reapportionment, and select friends of the elite benefiting every step of the way (e.g. architects, contractors, university professors, journalists, etc...).

The actual overhead of all this quasi-private sector messing with free market economics is staggering.

The opportunity cost of good benefits not realized for wasting money on the wrong things is even worse.

Our elite foundation leaders took charge of our arts, economy, and society, as much as they were able, and we have and see the results.

Are they all bad...? depends on what you are looking for from a community and leaders!

Disrupt IT

Surely there has to be a good solution


I think I see the difference now. 

When I was referencing the arts funding situation here in Atlanta, it was not connected to any sort of "punitive" taxation.  So, that's a major difference in local government policy.  In Atlanta, the arts funding was coming from federal grant money that had been doled out to local municipalities, who then decided where to place the funds. 

The situation you describe in Cleveland would never happen in Atlanta, because out city is not as segregated between race and class as Cleveland.  And because, Blacks and Whites in Atlanta are deeply enfranchised in each others investments. 

We understand interdependency here, consequentially the disparities that you see between class and race in most other major cities, is much less evident here.

Sure, we have racial tensions and there is a struggling working class, but all and all, Atlanta is a very liveable place with lots of interracial-interclass activities.  Though there's definitely still room for improvement.

Notwithstanding, just to add a final comment to the Cleveland sitution, as I understand it now, I think I would have voted against that new Garbage Pick-up Tax or any taxation that would clearly have a negative effect on the poor.

Still, I do think Debbie has a good point.  That even though that particular leadership did the wrong thing, the very fact that they feel that they had to do their dirty deeds under the guise of a Progressive format, indicates that they are acutely aware of the power that the grassroots possess.

So, don't underestimate the influence that small co-op's have

And yet, how odd and ironic is it that a northern city like Cleveland seems to deeply entrenched--dealing with the civil and econimic rights struggles that a southern city like Atlanta dealth with more than 30 years ago?

This reversal of fortune is a strange phenomena.  How did it happen and how does one envision it might change?

Where are the Unions?  Does ACORN have a presence there?  What about Habitat for Humanity, the NAACP?  And why can't RealNeo apply for grants or federal funding?

If the oppressed are stuck in a defeatist mind-set, how can that be changed?

I'm just tossing out ideas.  Surely there has to be a good solution.



I only have a couple of moments and may do not this well but here goes: I have watched over the years as the green movement took hold in the Cleveland area, as people like David Beach talked about watersheds,regional impacts on the envionment & large polluters as the recycling bins started to pop and then people began to get a clue that need to act to save ourselves from enviormental disaster. Enviornomental Healthwatch was set up. Studies researching the effects of pollution, smoke, and cockroaches on childhood asthma were done. Lead studies got done, and legislation passed, though there isn't any money to fund them (perhaps because it is not a priority?) Chemical "recyclers" that were posioning our neigborhoods through slipshod management were shut down. There are a lot more examples. My point is that if those things weren't done in the past there would not be discussion of Green business now.  Yes, I raise an eyebrow at the players involved but if these large players lay the ground work for an employee owned green business, I will celebrate that and also keep an eye on the development of this. If they fail to achieve a coop, I will be here protesting loudly. If they suceed, all the better. If they are the ones to bring solar power to the area on a larger scale than anyone else, that is ok too, because, again, it has to start somewhere. The Foundations do not trust grassroots based propositions, so the question is put to us to do it their way or not at all. Do we want to kill a project that will help the general area because we have been disrepected in the past by the funders?

I believe that if this does suceed, this will help smaller coops establish themsevles.

For the cigarette sin tax, that was voted into place by county residents.

The medical mart tax was not put to voters, nor was the trash collection tax.

For the Cleveland Metro School Board being appointed, rather than elected, not only was this voted on, but people went back and renewed this.

Cleveland is so backwards in so many ways, and leaders lack vision, no argument from me in this area.