Currently, there are numerous businesses in Carbondale up for sale, with rumors that more will be on the market in the coming year. Most of these businesses are not failing for lack of business – they are operable businesses that people of Carbondale cherish. Many workers at these businesses would be interested in becoming worker-owners, but they don’t have access to the kind of capital required.
Further, there are at least two local businesses whose owners themselves that have expressed interest in transitioning to worker-owned co-ops. They similarly face limits on access to capital (they don’t want workers to purchase their debts), or are hesitant to spend money hiring outside consultants to help in the transition.
According to an extensive recent study by Leeds University Business School based on over two decades worth of international date on worker cooperatives, the author concluded that worker owned and managed companies “are more productive than conventional businesses, with staff working ‘better and smarter’ and production organized more efficiently.”
If the city of Carbondale has an interest in retaining businesses on the Strip, perhaps the standard question of how to attract investors is the wrong question. Instead, the city the city could simply buy up these businesses and hand them over to their workers, transitioning them into worker owned cooperatives.
A similar idea is being tried in Cleveland, with great success. Evergreen Cooperatives operates a laundry facility, a hydroponics greenhouse, and a solar energy company. Their website explains the shift in thinking their approach is based on:
“The initiative was designed to create an economic breakthrough in Cleveland. Rather than a trickle-down strategy, it focuses on economic inclusion and building a local economy from the ground up. Rather than offering public subsidy to induce corporations to bring what are often low-wage jobs into the city, the Evergreen strategy calls for catalyzing new businesses, owned by their employees. Rather than concentrate on workforce training for employment opportunities that are largely unavailable to low-skill and low-income workers, the Evergreen Initiative first creates the jobs, and then recruits and trains local residents to fill them.”
This is working. It is working to create living wage jobs for people coming from backgrounds in poverty; it is working to keep cash-flow in the city; it is working to build resilience for the coming changes to the climate; and it is working to build an economy that is insulated from the effects and fluctuations of the wider market.
In the first year of the Carbondale Spring initiative, the city will:
Cooperative Business Fund Initiative Coordinator: Beau Henson, Member of the Carbondale Planning and Zoning Commission