Two visionary community leaders from Cleveland were in Seattle this week to share their vision with practitioners from Seattle University, Pichot University, the Seattle Foundation and Yesler Community Collaborative Partners.

Pierce Lee, Program Director with the Cleveland Foundation, and Howard, Executive Director of the Democracy Collaborative, are part of a team that is transforming some of Cleveland’s poorest neighborhoods by focusing on strategies to build community wealth and involve the city’s major institutions - hospitals and universities. Howard refers to them as “eds and meds.”

Community wealth building takes a fundamentally different approach to economic development, in that it does not simply focus on the number of jobs created. Howard outlined the major principals of their approach:

  • Economic development must be inherently place-based.
  • It emphasizes local ownership and control through establishing cooperatives and employee-owned businesses.
  • The goal is to anchor living-wage jobs in the community, not just to create jobs that are later outsourced or lodged in the suburbs.
  • Keep wealth local and prevent the leakage of capital from the city. This means that the people who live in a neighborhood are able to spend their earnings to fulfill their basic needs, rather than shopping at stores owned by distant large corporation. Thus local capital can have a multiplier effect.
India Pierce Lee, Program Director, Cleveland Foundation

India Pierce Lee, Program Director, Cleveland Foundation

Pierce Lee stressed the persistence needed to get those in charge of the local institutions involved and engaged. “I knew it would be hard,” she said, “but I also knew I’d keep going back until I got the right answer.” Consequently, major hospitals and universities in Cleveland have become primary customers for the new owner-operated business that have been established.

Three businesses under the umbrella of Evergreen Cooperatives include the Green City Growers Cooperative, a hydroponic urban agricultural business that grows greens and herbs, the Evergreen Cooperative Laundry, a commercial laundry facility and Evergreen Energy Solutions.

The growers cooperative occupies a 3.25 acre greenhouse and employees 38 workers, producing 3 million heads of leafy greens and 300,000 pounds of herbs a year. The laundry employees 48 full time workers and processes 6 million tons of laundry annually.

Both Howard and Pierce Lee stressed the importance of community-wide grass roots participation as a cornerstone of the Cleveland model. They emphasized that it is not an easy process, but it is valuable because it is creating genuine community wealth in Cleveland.

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