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Cleveland renews with co-ops

BUSINESS

The University Circle area of Cleveland, USA, is home to the city’s hospitals, universities and museums. These institutions  — and the people working in them — spend about US$3 billion each year on goods and services. However, very little of that money was reaching ordinary Clevelanders’ pockets. That was until a community cooperative was formed. 


The Evergreen Cooperatives was launched in 2008 by a working group of Cleveland-based institutions. The idea behind the co-op was to create living wage jobs for people in some of Cleveland’s poorest neighbourhoods. As the Evergreen website explains, rather than adopt a trickle-down business model, the idea was to build “a local economy from the ground up”. And, crucially, the various businesses operating under the Evergreen umbrella would all be owned by their employees with a stake in the profits.


There are three main enterprises in the co-op: Evergreen Energy Solutions, which provides LED lighting systems, solar power and other energy-efficient initiatives for Cleveland businesses, institutions and residential properties; Green City Growers, which supplies sustainably grown lettuce and gourmet greens to grocers, restaurants and other food service establishments; and the Evergreen Cooperative Laundry, which washes linen for hospitals, hotels and hospitality. As The Nation noted: “These are not your traditional small-scale co-ops.”


By creating permanent change for the city’s poorest residents, Evergreen has helped lift Cleveland’s neglected post-industrial economy. The “Cleveland model”, as it’s known, has since attracted attention from economic development professionals the world over. Says Evergreen board chair, Ronn Richard, “Our goal is equitable wealth creation at scale.”

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