On Monday, October 24, more than a 100 people crowded into City Hall to listen to testimony regarding the development of cooperatives in the City of Philadelphia and initiatives to support their growth. Council members were engaged and excited by the prospects of cooperatives. In his opening remarks, hearing sponsor Councilman Derek Green shared his experience with co-ops, from Childspace and Weavers Way Co-op in Mt. Airy to stories of his grandfather pooling resources with other Black farmers to purchase a bus so that their children could have transportation to school.
“I look at cooperatives and co-ops as a great opportunity to address poverty here in the City of Philadelphia, because not every person has their own resource to start a business, but may need some help from other people. I mean, we live here in the City of Philadelphia, in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and when you look at that word “commonwealth,” you’re talking about the greater good. And wealth is also how we have riches, but how do we benefit those riches to all people in our city? So I look at cooperatives as that type of enterprise.”
— Councilman Derek Green
(Pg. 63-65, Public Hearing Transcript from Oct. 24, 2016)
In the opening panel, Peter Frank, executive director of PACA, outlined existing and emerging cooperatives in Philadelphia and described how values-based businesses like co-ops can make a huge impact in their communities. Access to technical expertise, friendly financing options, and education about employee ownership models will significantly boost the creation of cooperative businesses that are owned and democratically controlled by the very communities most in need across the city.
Peter Frank outlined a plan for the City to support cooperative development. The plan calls for two million dollars a year for five years to:
- Fund technical assistance, particularly focused on immigrant populations, returning citizens, communities of color, and low wealth communities. The co-ops would be provided with free or low-cost support for the development of business plans, feasibility studies, market analyses, capitalization plans, incorporation documents and legal fees, project management, and co-op governance training.
- Support conversion of existing businesses to worker cooperatives. Profitable businesses close every year because retiring owners don’t adequately plan for succession. These businesses could be sold to their employees by forming a worker cooperative or an employee stock ownership plan. This ensures that jobs are retained and the businesses continue to operate in Philadelphia.
- Establish a cooperative loan fund to capitalize cooperative start-ups and finance cooperative conversions.
Cooperators from near and far came in solidarity for the hearing, and heads swelled with new knowledge from a robust panel of witnesses. You can read their amazing testimony on our hearing page.
Here’s the video of the hearing. Footage of our hearing starts at 55:00.
A great thanks to the supporters who came out to the hearing and to everyone who gave testimony!
The public hearing was a long-awaited first step in our public policy work with the City. We think we’re off to a great start, but there is still a lot of work to be done. In the next coming weeks we are continuing to work with Council members, city agencies, and our coalition partners to submit an updated ask to Councilman Green with the goal of getting a line item in next year’s budget. Here is what our timeline looks like:
- December: PACA and allies meet with individual council members to further build broad support for a cooperative development initiative.
- January/February: craft and introduce legislation or other administrative measures on behalf of cooperative businesses.
- February/March: if necessary, another public hearing on a co-op initiative may be called.
- May/June: the co-op initiative will be submitted for the 2017/18 budget cycle.
To learn more about how Philadelphia City Council works, check out this guide from the Committee of Seventy.
PACA is not working alone. We are part of a diverse coalition of organizations using cooperatives to move beyond traditional business and charitable models to tackle issues of inequality and racial injustice. The voices and needs of those most affected by systems of poverty and racism are central to our work. This coalition carries the momentum that will be driving this work forward over the next six months. Getting a line item in the budget for 2017/18 will be no small feat and is not guaranteed. By working together and building power, we hope to convince the City that the time for co-ops is now.