Certified EO is excited to spotlight the Evergreen Cooperatives, a Cleveland-based network of employee-owned companies, including an industrial-scale ecologically advanced laundry, a large urban greenhouse, a renewable energy company, and a fund to pursue employee ownership conversions of existing businesses.

The Evergreen Cooperatives were launched in 2008 by a working group of Cleveland-based institutions, including the Cleveland Foundation, the Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals, Case Western Reserve University, and the municipal government. Cleveland, a former industrial metropolis, had been wracked by deindustrialisation and depopulation. The Evergreen initiative was part of a regional economic plan to link the community’s economic development with the purchasing power of anchor institutions to expand wealth building opportunities in low-income, high-unemployment communities.

The initiative’s strategy focuses on economic inclusion and building a local economy from the ground up, by catalyzing new employee-owned businesses. The approach is to first create the jobs, then recruit and train local residents to fill them. Furthermore, the Evergreen Cooperatives return a percentage of their profits to develop additional worker-owned firms and grow the local economy. The Cleveland Foundation’s President/CEO and Evergreen Board Chairman, Ronn Richard frames this succinctly: “Our goal is equitable wealth creation at scale.”

The Evergreen Cooperatives create quality jobs through employee ownership and democratic management, anchor these jobs and wealth in the local community, and keep money circulating, which is reversing long-term economic decline. Today, this success has developed a reputation as “The Cleveland Model,” proving that “networked employee-owned businesses can succeed in the market while generating meaningful social impact and much higher quality jobs.” Nationwide, other cities are replicating and adapting this innovative approach to economic development, green job creation, and neighborhood stabilization.