Could Co-ops Strengthen Local Economy?

by | Apr 14, 2014 | Greater Jamestown, Renaissance Reflections | 0 comments

Wallpaper-1024x768

The recent decision by Con Agra to shut down its Carriage House plants in Dunkirk and Fredonia, resulting in the loss of over 400 local jobs, reveals once again how decisions made in distant places can have a significant impact on the local economy. But what can be done to bring decision-making, or at least more of it, closer to home? How can workers have more of a say in the direction and future of local enterprises, with an eye towards generating wealth that stays and circulates in their own community?

One possible answer is the worker cooperative (or co-op), a model of employee ownership that will be the center of discussion at the Lenna Theatre in Jamestown Community College’s Hultquist Building this Saturday, April 19, at 1pm. The event, sponsored by JCC and the Jamestown Renaissance Corporation, is open to the public and will include a screening of “Shift Change,” an award-winning documentary on the subject.

Cooperatives are not new or novel. Over 29,000 business cooperatives operate in the United States today, employing over 2 million people and generating $652 billion in annual sales.

Nor is the model new to Jamestown and Chautauqua County. Over a century ago, the worker co-op model was frequently used by groups of skilled Swedish woodworkers to raise the capital necessary to get a new furniture venture off the ground. They would pool their money and form a company in which each worker held shares, giving every employee/owner a powerful incentive to see the company compete and thrive.

In the 1970s, as waves of plant shutdowns and layoffs hit communities across the country, interest in the co-op model was revived. At the national level, employee stock ownership plans (or ESOPs) were written into the federal tax code as a type of retirement plan that allowed a company’s employees to become owners. To many, ESOPs were seen as a way to transition company ownership voluntarily from the founder to the workers–an alternative to the risks encountered when a company was simply sold off to another company.

The ESOP movement, which had support from both ends of the political spectrum because it empowered workers and promoted private investment, coincided with efforts locally to foster greater collaboration between employees and owners. The Jamestown Area Labor-Management Committee, coordinated by Mayor Stan Lundine, became a national model for bringing both sides together to find solutions that were mutually beneficial to workers and companies.

Today, there are familiar examples of cooperatives in our midst. Everyone who banks at a credit union participates in a consumer cooperative. True Value and Ace Hardware are purchaser cooperatives. Upstate Farms and the Westfield-based Grape Growers Cooperative are both examples of producer cooperatives.

Worker cooperatives, though, are the fastest growing type of co-op, with new companies forming around the country as co-ops or established companies transitioning from family-owned to worker-owned. Examples range from the three-employee BreadHive Bakery in Buffalo (a participant in the April 19 event at JCC) to the New Belgium Brewing Company, the eighth largest brewer in the U.S. with nearly 500 employee/owners.

Locally, this model has the potential to become an important part of the area’s economic development toolbox. Whether as a way to put small new businesses on a more sustainable footing, or preserving jobs by helping proprietors safely transition their businesses when they or their families decide to move on, co-ops present an opportunity to boost local entrepreneurship and cultivate a stronger and more stable economy.

To join the local conversation on co-ops, attend the April 19 event at JCC or feel free to contact us directly.

This post appeared in The Post-Journal on April 14, 2014, as JRC’s biweekly Renaissance Reflections feature.

You can watch the trailer to the documentary “Shift Change” below.

Recent Posts

2024 Downtown Building and Business Improvement Grant Now Open!

Are you looking to adapt or improve your business?Is the downtown building you own not living up to all of its potential?The Jamestown Renaissance Corporation’s Building and Business Improvement Program(BBIP) may have the necessary resources. The program is a 50/50...

ArtScape Jamestown Opens Its 2024 Call for Artists and Sponsors

The Jamestown Renaissance Corporation is again partnering with Chautauqua Art Gallery and the City of Jamestown Parks Department to create an outdoor public art gallery in downtown Jamestown, N.Y. Artists of all ages who live in Chautauqua County or within 35 miles of Jamestown are invited to participate in this juried art competition.

Now Taking 2024 Reservations for Winter Garden Plaza

In 2023, we hosted some fantastic events at Winter Garden Plaza. For music, we hosted Third Thursday concert series and the Whirlybird Music & Arts Festival. We were also able to partner with Jamestown Pride, Jamestown Juneteenth, and the YWCA for programming in...

Hey lover of Jamestown! We need your input!

The Jamestown Renaissance Corporation is excited to be partnering with Main Street America to do some research, planning, and implementation to improve downtown Jamestown. Part of this work involves getting community input through a survey. Survey Link What is Main...

Host your event in Winter Garden Plaza

Vibrant downtowns have a range of events, big and small, that draw visitors and local residents to enjoy community assets, patronize local businesses, and add vitality to public spaces. To stimulate new and better events in downtown Jamestown, the Jamestown...

ArtScape Jamestown Opens Its Call for Artists

ArtScape Jamestown is inviting local artists to submit their work for a new public art program between now and April 7, 2023.  The Jamestown Renaissance Corporation is partnering with Chautauqua Art Gallery and the City of Jamestown Park's Department to create an...

Historic Tax Credit Workshop: February 15th via Zoom

Do you have a property in one of Jamestown's Historic Districts or looking to purchase property in one of them? This tax credit zoom workshop is for you. Earn tax credits for property improvements. Feb. 15th 6:00 p.m. Join Preservation Buffalo Niagara, the...

2023 Grants for Building and Business Owners Now Open!

Are you looking to adapt or improve your business?Is the downtown building you own not living up to all of its potential?The Jamestown Renaissance Corporation’s Building and Business Improvement Program(BBIP) may have the necessary resources. The program is a 50/50...

What kind of “winter place” should Jamestown be?

We recently hosted "Jaime the Storefront Guy" for a workshop for downtown business owners and community stakeholders. Jaime shared some wonderful insights, and the attendees had great takeaways. There was a dynamic conversation around several subjects, but one was...