Democratically owned and operated businesses are still a relatively little understood segment of the economy in Central New York.
But with initiatives underway statewide, the potential for employee-owned enterprises (EOEs) to bloom shows promise. This is considered an approach that can help control the “widening wealth gap, and displacement of people from neighborhoods,” according to the Cooperative Growth Ecosystem report published by Citi Community Development — a Citigroup companies initiative for achieving financial inclusion and economic empowerment.
Here’s a summary of two of the most promising developments in the burgeoning cooperative ecosystem surrounding us.
The New York Cooperative Network (NYCN) was founded in Syracuse in 2013 as a cross-sector alliance of cooperatives and associates growing the cooperative economy, movement, and community in New York state. The NYCN seeks to provide mission support for EOEs in upstate New York parallel to the various efforts and organizations in New York City (NYC) providing similar work such as the Cooperative Economics Alliance of New York City. In 2017, the NYCN partnered as advisors with the Cooperative Development Institute of New England to create a database of cooperatives in New York state, outside NYC.
This cooperative business and solidarity economy census project has been completed and the final report is awaiting publication. The effort contacted and verified the information of more than 900 entities across Upstate including existing and new EOEs in the consumer, housing, worker, producer, utility, financial, childcare, and retail sectors; plus, numerous solidarity economy-associated entities such as land trusts, community gardens, and CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture).
The data, once published, will provide a way to build value mapping chains among EOE sector businesses through identifying main activities associated with a service/product line to identify performance-improvement opportunities.
Gov. Cuomo recently signed into law Bill Number S5349A — “An act to amend the economic development law, in relation to establishing an advisory panel on employee-owned enterprises within the division of small business services; and providing for the repeal of such provisions upon expiration thereof.”
Many communities have interesting history associated with EOEs that can provide historical context and initiative towards the current growth spurt. One example is the Bear Paw retail store in Syracuse that formed to sell Freedom Quilting Bee products in the 60s and 70s. The Freedom Quilting Bee, formed in Wilcox County, Alabama, was an outgrowth of the civil rights movement intended to help those in economic troubles after backlash from their registering to vote.
The Freedom Quilting Bee saw great success with its work being “displayed at the Smithsonian Institution, contracted by Sears, and sold at stores like Bloomingdale’s” as the Bee “captured the energies and imagination of the New York world of fashion and interior design, sparking a nationwide revival of interest in patchwork quilts.” (Source: The Freedom Quilting Bee, Nancy Callahan, 1987, University of Alabama Press)
This history, along with current legislative and data-development initiatives, can provide the spark and push for the current wave of employee-owned enterprises in Central New York and statewide to succeed.
Article published in the BJNN on January 29, 2018
Frank Cetera is a New York State-certified business advisor at the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) located at Onondaga Community College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org