Cincinnati is a medium-sized city in the Ohio River Valley. It has a large working-class population and a long labor tradition as the first industrialized city in the Midwest. Today’s above-average unemployment is partially a result of deindustrialization across the Rust Belt over decades. Several major corporations have their head offices in Cincinnati. The two largest employers are Kroger Corporation and the University of Cincinnati.
Cincinnati is in the early stages of developing a growth-oriented worker cooperative ecosystem. A robust network of faith-based organizations has long supported worker co-op development at a small scale, with a Catholic university recently playing a larger role. The relatively new Cincinnati Union Cooperative Initiative makes Cincinnati the central testing ground for the union co-op model developed by the United Steel Workers and Mondragon. Driven by two local nonprofit developers with distinct approaches and networks, worker co-op development is beginning to engage local politics and philanthropy in a vision of alternative economic development for the city.
The relatively young worker cooperative ecosystem in Cincinnati has powerful building blocks in its relationships with labor and faith communities, and these Important Elements have real potential to be leveraged for scale. However, without a strong history of do-it-yourself cooperatives—and the social capital, management expertise, business relationships, and technical assistance providers that grow up around such a community—Cincinnati is missing some Essential Elements that are preconditions to scale.
– Robust Advocacy Partnerships with labor and faith communities
– Potential for Connection to Market via these constituencies
– Attitudes and Culture of support, while not widespread, are concentrated in key communities with power and resources
– Develop co-op Member Skills and Capacity, including the skills of managers
– Connect worker co-ops to mainstream Business Supports
– Strengthen Cooperative Education through local educational institutions and entrepreneurship programs
Fully leveraging the resources of existing partners may be the next step toward scale for this Cooperative Growth Ecosystem. How can organized labor, for example, use its financial and legal resources and industry knowledge to build capacity in the worker cooperative community? How might the faith community leverage its connection to educational institutions to build skills and capacity among co-op members? What other actors in the ecosystem could help fill in gaps? Might a coordinated campaign help unlock public and private funding and engage the values-based business community?