Supportive Mayor in a Small City in the Heart of Cooperative Country
Madison, the capitol of Wisconsin and home of its flagship university, has a solid middle class, a stable economy, and relatively little racial diversity. The state of Wisconsin is distinguished by a long history of cooperative organizing and a strong cooperative economy, based in agriculture but present across sectors. A polarized dynamic between progressive Madison and conservative state government has made the statehouse a flashpoint for mass protest. Madison’s progressive mayor has a history of supporting co-ops and, in 2014, committed $5M over five years from the city’s capital budget for cooperative development. In 2015, a worker co-op leader was elected to Madison’s Common Council.
Madison has the highest rate in the country of employment per capita in worker cooperatives. More than 500 people working in 14 worker co-ops compose between 0.3% and 0.4% of Madison’s total labor force. These co-ops have a public profile and level of political influence that is not seen elsewhere in this country. The cooperative way of doing business is widely seen as “normal” in Madison, and co-ops enjoy institutional support from higher education and business service providers. The two largest worker co-ops in Madison were both formed through conversion from a conventional form of ownership.