The City of Madison has awarded funding for an alliance of community-based organizations, labor groups, and cooperative developers to create a program that will establish worker-owned cooperatives in Madison. The initiative is designed to promote democratic workplaces, reduce income and racial inequalities, and build economic opportunity within the city’s underrepresented communities.
“This has been a truly collaborative effort among key community groups and the City of Madison to create sustainable economic models rooted in our communities,” said Anne Reynolds, executive director of the University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives. “We are deeply grateful to the Common Council for their belief in the cooperative approach.”
The City of Madison requested bids for the Cooperative Enterprises for Job Creation and Business Development Program earlier this year. Two dozen organizations came together as the Madison Cooperative Development Coalition (MCDC) to create a proposed design for the program. Cooperative Network, Wisconsin’s statewide association for cooperative businesses and a member of the coalition, was awarded the contract in late October as the program’s fiscal agent.
Madison Mayor Paul Soglin has expressed his commitment to ensuring the project has an impact on the entire city.
“Business cooperatives create inclusive, living-wage jobs that grow economic equality in communities,” Soglin said. “The City of Madison is investing in the future economy by helping to create an ongoing, strong, network of support and financing for workers looking to own their own businesses and business owners looking to retire who would like to sell their business to their employees. These projects will create more opportunities for economic equality for all Madisonians.”
Each of MCDC’s three partner groups has a critical role in the initiative. Community organizations will identify interested workers and community business needs, provide culturally relevant materials and training, and assist cooperatives in their development. Labor partners will carry out industry, value chain, and community assessments; incorporate education into existing trainings and apprenticeship programs; and provide new co-ops with union resources and benefits. With the expertise of local cooperative developers, MCDC will create a comprehensive infrastructure for emerging cooperatives to receive technical assistance throughout the entire development process.
“The peer mentoring component will help ensure the city’s investment has a lasting benefit for all involved,” said Tania Ibarra, an MCDC member who represents the Latino Professionals Association of Greater Madison. “I am hopeful this program will not only help retain jobs in the area, but also build capacity in communities that historically have not participated in these opportunities.”
Eric S. Upchurch II, a representative of the Young Gifted and Black Coalition, Opportunity Inc., and the Alliance for Black Economic Empowerment, is equally confident in the program’s potential.
“This represents a groundbreaking, collaborative development model that is already becoming an example for communities across the nation,” said Upchurch, a member of MCDC’s steering committee. “Through this innovative approach, we hope to build ties, break down cultural barriers, and drive cooperative development in a way that best serves the individuals and families this program is meant to serve.”