In this episode we’re going to Cleveland, Ohio to explore the Evergreen Cooperative Initiative. Launched in 2008 as part of the broader University Circle Initiative, the three cooperatives that make up the Evergreen network are tied together by a non-profit organization called the Evergreen Cooperative Corporation. The utilization of surrounding institutions historically rooted in the community known as ‘anchor institutions’ play a central role in acting as both initial benefactors and customers of the coops as well. This novel structure has inspired other cities around the country to adopt what has come to be termed the “Cleveland Model.”
The initiative has offered an alternative to how community and economic development is approached by integrating cooperatives with a 501c3 that promises not only steady employment, but provides an opportunity to begin building wealth through worker-owners’ equity within the enterprise itself. At the same time, Evergreen has legitimized cooperatives as a vital form of development and introduced a more democratic arrangement that accounts for the interests of workers themselves.
Evergreen has not come without its own set of unique problems. Although any business start-up faces challenges getting off the ground, Evergreen’s particular structure presented difficulties that have forced many involved with the initiative to look inward and come up with dynamic responses.
We got in touch with John McMicken, CEO of the Evergreen Cooperative Corporation, the non-profit that links together all three coops. We were also able to speak with Nicholas Zingale, associate professor at Cleveland State University and Gar Alperovitz, co-chair of the Next Systems Project and co-founder of the Democracy Collaborative, an organization that provided initial support for the Evergreen project.