A great article (and an even better socio-economic development) is over at Yes! Magazine.  The timing of it, as I slowly crawl my way back into the habit of writing, couldn’t be better; it ties in rather nicely to the previous piece I put up about new research showing we may succeed in our evolution for social reasons rather than by some “greedy gene”.  It also ties in nicely to a piece I’m just finishing up about my own personal experience in trying (and failing) to bring a worker-owned business into Downtown Montpelier.

The piece over at Yes! Magazine is about the city of Cleveland’s recent boom in worker-owned businesses and the city itself (along with educational and other institutions) playing a key role in getting them off the ground.  See, Cleveland, down on its luck for several decades now, realized (with the help of some pretty smart and creative non-profit organizations and other institutions) that actual economic recovery and stability aren’t just about creating jobs, or even creating green jobs, but are about creating green jobs that increase- directly- the wealth of the people who do the work.

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.

Nice.  While job creation is important because, well, we all need to work and make a living and contribute socially, the modus operandi of capitalist enterprise syphons the vast majority of the wealth that is created by our work to line the pockets of the “owners”.  Well, if everyone is an owner, problem solved.  To see this happening with the backing of major institutions and City Hall- and to see it targeted at the most hard-off neighborhoods- is incredible.  Hopefully other communities pick-up on this; I’m sure they will once they see how successful it becomes.

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