In 2008 a group of local institutions came together to facilitate an economic breakthrough in Cleveland, Ohio. They aimed to create a more sustainable, green economy in a post-industrial city that had experienced population decline and capital flight over several decades. The Evergreen Initiative set out to harness the spending power of city anchor institutions such as universities and hospitals, which are specifically tied to a local economy and can’t ‘get up and leave’. Cleveland adopted a model of community wealth building as an alternative to the fashionable ‘Trickle Down’ model, which often relies on ‘Inward Investments’, where public subsidy is used to entice multinational corporations to set up in a city; often resulting in low-wage jobs, with business profit also leaving the local area.

To achieve The Evergreen Initiative’s economic development aims, a group of co-operative businesses were formed which were designed to deliver specific services that would meet the growing demand from anchor institutions and create living-wage jobs in six low-income neighbourhoods through employment, investment and business development.

Those co-operative businesses include:

  • The Evergreen Co-operative Laundry – providing environmentally friendly laundry services to local healthcare organisations.
  • Evergreen Energy Solutions – providing renewable energy provision to local business and homes.
  • Green City Growers – growing and selling a range of fresh fruit and vegetables.

The Evergreen Initiative has attracted global media attention as well as wide interest from economic development professionals. It is an example of a mainstreamed community economic development which has re-engaged local people in the economy to support local employment, investment and increase the circulation of capital in Cleveland; addressing the multiple socio/economic challenges from the areas large scale industrial change. It has created successful local businesses which re-invest in the local community, creating new job opportunities, particularly for those who are furthest from the job market.

Important questions that project sought to address:

  • How do we create good quality jobs at a time of growing job dislocation and disinvestment in our urban areas?
  • How do we anchor capital, particularly in underserved, low-income neighbourhoods, so that it doesn’t get up and leave, as so many corporations have?
  • Where do we find financing for job creation at a time of ever more-constrained resources for urban economic development?
  • How do we address the lack of economic opportunity that is endemic in many urban neighbourhoods where unemployment is at double-digit levels even in the best of times, and whereas many as 30% of residents live below the poverty line?
  • How do we turn the vision and promise of green jobs into real employment opportunities that are available to urban workers today?

Most important of all The Evergreen Initiative sought new ways to rebuild the economies of inner cities, and to stabilise and revitalise disinvested neighbourhoods. The project has social good at its heart, and through local, worker-owned job creation; sustainable, green and democratic workplaces ultimately aims to ensure that the benefits of economic growth in Cleveland are equitable.

More information is available from the Evergreen Co-operatives website

You can learn more about Community Economic Development at http://localisingprosperity.org.uk/