Currently, there are at least three businesses on the Strip 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 a recent extensive 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 lowwage
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
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:
• set up a Cooperative Business fund to purchase functioning businesses currently up for sale
• hire consultants to aid in the design and transition of these businesses into worker-owned
• split the profits from these businesses between the worker-owners and replenishing or
growing the Cooperative Business fund
• Encourage and financially support these cooperative businesses in building local supply
chains (e.g. for a pizza restaurant, to grow wheat, tomatoes, and other ingredients locally) by
connecting the worker-owners with those involved in the urban farming initiative
Cooperative Business Fund: $1,000,000
Consultant Fees: $10,000
Estimated Total: $1,010,000