Community Wealth Building

Community Wealth Building is an approach to municipal level economic development described by the Democracy Collaborative. It involves solving local problems by fostering alternative institutions.

Instead of giving tax abatements to developers to hold some units affordable for a set period of time, we'd work to foster housing cooperatives and Community Land Trusts that would continue to pursue affordable housing of their own volition. Instead of giving incentives to major corporations, in competition with other cities, to get them to come or stay, we foster local worker owned cooperatives and B corporations. Instead of relying on the big commerical banks for financing, we foster local CDCs, CDFIs, Credit Unions, and public banks.

One particular community wealth building strategy involves identifying the community's anchor institutions, those institutions which are non-profit and unlikely to leave, and the fostering alternative institutions around them. This strategy was pioneered by Evergreen Cooperatives in Cleveland, Ohio.

In Evergreen Cooperatives, a federation of worker cooperatives was formed to serve the needs of Cleveland's hospital system. The cooperatives include a green commercial laundry, a system of urban greenhouses, and a renewable energy company. The three cooperatives are linked together, under the banner of Evergreen, with a cooperative finance institution which can help new cooperatives start up or finance expansion at the existing ones.

Worker cooperatives are owned and governed by their workers. They are democratic institutions that are wholly in the control of those who do the work. Because their workers are rooted in the community, so too are the cooperatives. Because the workers are calling the shots, they get to decide how the profits are spent - whether its to increase their salaries, scale the business, or maybe take a little more time off with their families.

In Cleveland, the Evergreen Cooperatives often hire those who most need the opportunity, providing not just meaningful work, but equity and ownership to those who might otherwise be marginalized and left behind. And because every aspect of the cooperative's work is local, the whole community benefits.

Here in Bloomington, our anchor institutions are IU and IU Health Bloomington. We can apply the Cleveland model by working with them to identify needs in their supply chain and nurturing worker cooperatives to serve those needs. In doing so, we can capture wealth already flowing through the community and keep it here. We already have one housing cooperative, Bloomington Cooperative Living, and a conservation focused land trust, Sycamore Land Trust. We should work with and support these institutions, and we should work to establish a housing focused Community Land Trust and foster more Housing Cooperatives to provide affordable housing.

Following this approach we can help foster a locally controlled economy that's about building wealth for our community while working to solve its problems. We can start building a truly democratic and equitable economy, from the ground up.