“A new ownership and economic class,” he says. ” That’s the stuff that gets you out of bed in the morning.”
By: Vince Grzegorek | Cleveland Scene Magazine | July 19, 2017
Lights, lettuce and laundry. It’s alliterative shorthand for employees of Evergreen Cooperatives that basically describes the employee-owned operation’s three areas of business. There’s Evergreen Energy Solutions (lights), which encompasses work in LED installation and construction; Evergreen Laundry Cooperative (laundry, of course), which does large- and small-scale work for nursing homes, hospitals and more; and Green City Growers (lettuce), the 3.2-acre hydroponic greenhouse in the Central neighborhood that grows all kinds of lettuce for area restaurants and for further distribution.
Evergreen began back in 2008 with the laundry facility, then the energy solutions business, and finally the greenhouse in 2012. There have been bumps in the road, but lights and laundry are profitable and lettuce is projected to be this year.
Shaker Heights native Brett Jones is the president of Evergreen Energy Solutions and is part of the leadership team that’s helped guide the businesses, which employ around 140 people, 60 of whom are members. (Employees can join the co-op after a year.) The whole “mission” aspect of Evergreen wasn’t something he initially “got” when he started.
After high school, Jones went to Ohio State, finishing his degree while he was abroad in South Africa. He was a Fulbright fellow and got into global logistics (freighting), founding and working at a handful of businesses before being recruited to run Tri-C’s workforce program. It wasn’t long before Evergreen sought him out — they were working on a solar project at the time — and Jones signed on to help them with top-line growth in 2012.
“I understood the mission aspect a little at first,” he says over coffee at Dewey’s in Shaker Heights, where he lives in the house where he was raised, and where his mother was raised before that. “But I wasn’t a community development or economic development guy. I was a business guy. So I wondered how we were going to do all this mission stuff, but after six months, I got bit by the bug. It’s a reason to get out of bed in the morning.
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