As Republicans gathered in Cleveland, Ohio, it was easy to miss an important experiment taking place a few minutes away from the convention center.
Evergreen Cooperatives – an unusual worker-owned business – is emerging from its startup phase. It brings an innovative model of job creation with the potential to scale up and improve lives across America.
Evergreen got its start in 2008, when the Cleveland Foundation brought local leaders together to improve lives for low-income residents of the depressed local economy. The founding institutions (which locals call “anchor institutions”) include the Cleveland Foundation, Case Western Reserve University, University Hospitals, the Cleveland Clinic, and local government.
Rather than pour grant money into conventional anti-poverty programs, the anchors sought to create jobs that would fund themselves without ongoing subsidy. But they rejected the conventional strategy of luring employers with tax breaks; these deals often go bad.
Instead the anchor institutions sought a “sustainable business model, one that could be replicated and expanded,” according to Tom Zenty, CEO of University Hospitals, one of the anchors as well as an important customer of Evergreen.
Note from Storm: If you’re wondering if cooperatives have any real economic power, consider this: There are over 30,000 worker-owned cooperatives in the U.S. They generate some $650 billion year. Fortune 500 firm Ocean Spray (the cranberry people) is a worker-owned cooperative.