Local Living Economies & Co-ops

A little over a year ago, I wrote about a conference taking place here in Bellingham, Washington, an annual event put on by the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE).

I wrote in that post how, in the face of federal, state, and local government failure to adequately address economic and environmental crises, the best solution is for local communities to take charge and make change happen on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood, town-by-town basis, and that’s what BALLE is all about.

It’s a nice coincidence that today is the first day of the 2012 BALLE conference, and I just happened to come across an inspiring article at Fast Company that totally fits this subject.

Hippie Capitalism: How An Impoverished U.S. City Is Building An Economy On Co-ops

With sky-high unemployment, Richmond, California, is not a place where traditional business models alone can dent poverty. The city has turned to co-ops in hopes that people who might be unemployable in the traditional economy gain access to both jobs and control over their own labor.

What’s really remarkable in this story is that the local government, led by an ambitious mayor, is spearheading this movement.

“There’s not a lot of help coming from the federal government, or the state government,” says the city’s Green Party mayor, Gayle McLaughlin. “So we’re kind of on our own.” Two years ago, she went all the way to Spain in search of another economic model that might reinvigorate her city…

The Basque Country in Spain is home to the world’s most famous worker-owned co-op, the Mondragon Corporation, based in the town of Mondragon. The 55-year-old corporation includes some 250 smaller co-ops, with more than 80,000 employees, the vast majority of them members and owners themselves…

And so she brought the idea back to California and hired what is probably the only official municipal worker co-op consultant in the country. As of January, the first co-op born from this campaign, the aptly named Liberty Ship Café, is up and running, with plans for new bike shop, bakery, urban agriculture, and solar installation co-ops on the way.

Mayor McLaughlin’s program is in its infancy, but you have to admire the bigness of her vision, and hope, for the sake of struggling Richmond, that she can succeed.

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