We believe that in order to create large-scale change, we must integrate worker ownership into the broader ecosystem of job and business growth. We envision a future where:
- Entrepreneurs consider the cooperative business structure alongside other business forms.
- Economic development agencies encourage worker ownership through policies, services and incentives.
- Business owners see selling to their employees as a viable option when they are ready to retire or cash out.
- Schools (especially those teaching about business) ‘normalize’ worker ownership as an acceptable business structure and offer courses in cooperative success factors and decision-making structures.
- Community members interested in worker co-ops have access to high quality resources to determine feasibility and to build cooperative businesses.
We spearheaded a “Bay Area Blueprint” strategy as a first step in building this future. The one-year Bay Area Blueprint process engaged diverse stakeholders to explore and promote multiple pathways to ownership for low-income workers in the San Francisco Bay Area’s East Bay. The pathways are:
- Small-scale coop entrepreneurship, including a pilot of the Worker Coop Academy;
- Incubating or accelerating scalable cooperatives; and
- Business conversion to worker ownership.
Project Equity led this initiative together with the East Bay Community Law Center’s Green Collar Communities Clinic and the Sustainable Economies Law Center. Other collaborators and supporters include Laney College, the Sustainable Business Alliance, the U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives, and local entities spanning government, nonprofits, and business.
Thanks to a grant from the One Bay Area Economic Prosperity Initiative, we launched the Bay Area Blueprint process in April 2014 to create actionable feasibility studies and pilot projects across the three pathways to worker ownership, and published our results in March 2015.
Blueprint Overview and Learnings – Slide Show
Recorded Webinar about the Blueprint (March, 2015)
Planning for the New Economy, Carolina Planning Journal, 2015 Issue
The Carolina Planning Journal published an article in which we outlined the details of the Bay Area Blueprint.
Bay Area Blueprint: Worker Cooperatives as a Community Economic Development Strategy
Abstract: The growing low-wage service sector in our economy, combined with overall wage and wealth gaps that are especially concentrated in communities of color, means many working adults don’t make enough money to cover basic needs. Businesses that are owned and run by their workers offer a different way of doing business that benefits workers, businesses, and society. Worker coops are a key component of a “new economy,” and as such, Community Economic Development efforts should incorporate worker cooperative development into their strategies. This paper describes a project in the Bay Area of California to create a local action plan for moving towards scale and impact of worker cooperative development by engaging multi-sectoral actors. It includes a framework for assessing the opportunities in a local region to increase worker coops to benefit low wage workers, and takeaways for other regions that want to apply a similar approach.