The California city of Richmond has embarked on a program to help promote the growth of co-op businesses to create job opportunities and provide avenues to create stable incomes for unskilled and hard-core unemployed residents.
The program started last year after Green Mayor Gayle McLaughlin visited the Mondragon Corp., a federation of worker cooperatives in the Basque region of Spain. She was part of a national delegation, SFGate reports.
"Even in good times, Richmond has high unemployment," McLaughlin says. "In hard times, cities like Richmond suffer even more."
McLaughlin said the city could act as a conduit by hiring co-op businesses to provide services to the city.
City officials are now re-working a vendor ordinance that would allow a health-food truck co-op onto city-owned property.
The city Chamber of Commerce and its traditionally conservative Council of Industry have also expressed interest in the co-op project, the paper says.
"Everybody is looking for alternatives and new ideas to stimulate business, and this is one of them," McLaughlin said. "We can't continue with the same strategies, and these co-ops offer the chance to create new jobs and build personal wealth."
The program is still in its infancy, but there are already more than a half-dozen co-op efforts under way.
"We're focusing on worker co-ops where people own their own jobs and manage themselves," said Terry Baird, who was hired by Richmond as a consultant. Baird, a Richmond resident, is a co-founder of Arizmendi Cooperative Inc.
Miguel Espino, who established the East Bay Agricultural Project, wants to establish aquaponics farms in Richmond that grow fish and vegetables.
Baird has consulted with a budding North Richmond health food co-op, an electric bicycle builder and a group that wants to sell hydroponically grown organic foods.
Most recently, Baird advised the Latina Center, a women's group of Central and South American immigrants who dream of one day running a bakery similar to Arizmendi.
Baird, a 30-year co-op veteran, has advised the group to start small and think big.
Read more: Richmond co-op program holds potential for jobs (SF Gate)