A Nationally Watched Initiative in Grassroots Economic Development
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), the Evergreen Cooperative Initiative is working to create living-wage jobs in six low-income neighborhoods, with a median household income below $18,500, in an area known as Greater University Circle.
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 low-wage 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 them.
A Model Drawing Wide Attention
The resulting businesses have drawn national and even global media attention as well as wide interest from economic development professionals. “These are not your traditional small-scale co-ops,” wrote The Nation, noting the initiative’s large ambitions, and the national buzz it has created for “the Cleveland model.” Fast Company magazine noted the collective “is finding ways to make the city cleaner and more wealthy, in ways that will create permanent change for the city’s poorest residents.”
The Evergreen Cooperative Initiative remains an important model for healing neglected post-industrial economies in the American heartland. But it’s also part of a larger experiment in alternative wealth-building and wealth-sharing models being considered by stakeholders in the Greater University Circle Initiative. Says the Cleveland Foundation’s President/CEO and Evergreen Board Chairman, Ronn Richard: “Our goal is equitable wealth creation at scale.”