My Day with Ted Howard, guest post by Taylor Fitzgerald

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St. George’s Independent School rising senior Taylor Fitzgerald spent a week interning with LaunchYourCity. It was a privilege to have her involved, and we’d like to share her story below:

My Day with Ted Howard

One day of my internship at LaunchYourCity, Inc. this spring, I was fortunate enough to spend the day around Ted Howard, a leader in cooperative business models to change communities. He is the Founder and Executive Director of The Democracy Collaborative at the University of Maryland and also a Steven A. Minter Fellow.

This was exciting because before this experience, I had not heard of the developments taking place in Cleveland, Ohio. Basically, they wanted to make major improvements to the city, so they took a chance and duplicated the very successful business structure set up in Mondragon, Spain. In Cleveland, this took the form of the Evergreen Cooperative — a new type business model focusing on cooperation rather than strict capitalism. It’s a new way of thinking about your community and business.

One startling statistic he pointed out is that the top 400 wealthiest people in America own more wealth than over half the nation combined. They saw this gap in Cleveland and identified cooperative business models as means to change this statistic locally. To do this, they needed to not only create jobs for those who needed to work but also make them co-owners of the business to help the employees create personal wealth.

In Cleveland, they first created the Evergreen Cooperative Laundry, and it is a huge success. What is really interesting about this is that while a normal laundry worker might normally receive minimum wage, the laundry workers in Cleveland earn $15 hourly wages plus healthcare and other benefits. Another interesting fact about the Laundry is that they many times hire ex-inmates. They find people who may have made bad choices in their life and give them another chance at a new start.

The big innovation though is that all the employees have the choice and vote to decide on the direction of the business. That’s the cooperative way. Because they are owners of the business they work in, the employees decide how to make changes and even whether or not to hire a new employee. When times get tough at the business and they need to reduce labor costs, the employee-owners would likely reduce all hours of all employees as opposed to laying off employees. In this way the community is stronger because unemployment is lower; the employees can base the decision on the market conditions and what the business can afford.

Ted Howard said the program is still a work in progress, and they are growing and adapting like any new enterprise. Just like the other start-up business, they have big plans for the future. They presently have 2 other cooperative businesses and are looking to add 2 more soon. By creating new jobs, enabling employees to be owners, and teaching everyone to be more aware of the relationship between community and business, the Evergreen Cooperative is working to make Cleveland a better place. This is something that we should do in Memphis, TN.

— by Taylor Fitzgerald