Author Archive: Deonna Anderson

Recycling Programs Show “Untapped Potential” to Grow Human Services Nonprofits

Operations manager Jason Prasad (right) shows staffer Jacob Powers how to cut the top off a mattress, at St. Vincent de Paul’s mattress recycling facility in Woodland, California. (Courtesy St. Vincent de Paul Society)

In a warehouse located in Eugene, Oregon, a worker scoops melted recycled glass from a 2,300-degree furnace. He pours it onto a table, where his assistant presses down into the molten glass with a decorative mold. They are making tiles to be sold in the on-site shop and tourist shops across the country.

About six miles away, in another warehouse, three workers sort through 16 thousand pounds of donated, used books, determining which should be sold and which should be pulped.

The warehouses belong to the human services nonprofit St. Vincent de Paul Society of Lane County. Susan Palmer, the nonprofit’s economic development director, says the waste management operation at St. Vincent of Lane County has three main goals: divert materials from the waste stream, create jobs for the local community, and generate revenue for the nonprofit. It’s working. In addition to books and glass, the nonprofit recycles mattresses and box springs — over 300,000 annually — employs about 385 people in its waste management programs, and brings in $21 million from these activities yearly.

St. Vincent of Lane County uses some of that revenue to fund its other activities – affordable housing development, emergency and homelessness services, and employment solutions like its job search center where people can get help with resumes, career counseling and interview tips.

“We’re not bound to our funders,” Palmer says. “Having our own revenue stream allows us to pivot to the needs of our community.”

St. Vincent of Lane County also, for the last six years, has been coaching other nonprofits around the country who want to start their own recycling programs. The nonprofit believes that these operations can be revenue-generators elsewhere as well as creating good jobs.

At St. Vincent of Lane County, says Palmer, career development is baked into its internal hiring and promoting processes.

“We don’t have a formal system, but rather a strong need for talented individuals to take on leadership roles as we grow,” she says by email. “Employees who show willingness to grow, a desire to work on our projects and be a part of our team rise up because we need them to.”

Glass artist Chris Jenkins pours molten glass into a mold. (Courtesy St. Vincent de Paul Society)

In 2012, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation gave St. Vincent de Paul of Lane County a grant to help other nonprofits start their own materials recycling programs. That grew into the Cascade Alliance, an umbrella organization for St. Vincent de Paul’s training efforts.

“There is great untapped potential to employ more people in these jobs as more communities and companies adopt zero-waste goals that will make more materials available for reuse, upcycling and recycling,” Palmer writes.

Organizations that join the Cascade Alliance receive mentorship and guidance from St. Vincent. Each organization has to fund its own start-up operation, which typically costs $150,000 to $200,000, but St. Vincent has helped pay for a couple of the nonprofits’ smaller line items – a cash register for one, a $15,000 forklift for another.

At the moment, there are 14 Cascade Alliance members, including St. Vincent itself.

Greater Bridgeport Community Enterprises (GBCE), a Connecticut-based nonprofit, is a Cascade Alliance member that has had a relationship with St. Vincent since before the alliance was established.

GBCE launched its mattress recycling operation, called Park City Green, in 2013, says Adrienne Houël, the organization’s president and CEO. In 2017, PCG recycled more than 60,000 mattresses, breaking them down into their component parts. Foam becomes carpet padding. Cotton goes into insulation. Wood becomes mulch or is burned; metal springs are sold for scrap.

Bridgeport is a depressed economic area, says Houël, who started GBCE with the intent to create jobs for the city’s residents.

“The issue of employment is the critical one here in Bridgeport,” Houël says. “And the focus here would be on trying to make sure that the unemployed, disadvantaged residents of the city would be able to have jobs, which has a very big economic [impact] for the communities and for their families.”

The city’s median household income between 2012 and 2016 was $42,113, according to Census data. That’s about $30,000 less than that of the state of Connecticut, which sits at $73,433. Bridgeport City’s unemployment rate was also about 2 percent higher than the national average in September.

Houël says one of the biggest challenges of starting Park City Green was money.

“It’s always a struggle to put together the kind of pool of resources that you need to be able to do real social ventures,” she says. “The biggest foundations do have some funds that would come in but they’re not going to come in until you really get off the ground and have your proof of concept together.”

Between 2012 – when GBCE also ran a construction program – through mid-2017, the organization employed 98 people. Houël says they employed 47 of them for 6 months or more and, of those, 32 of them for one year or more.

“One of our goals is to encourage employment stability which is one of the major barriers of the populations we work with,” she notes.

Houël worked in real estate development and marketing before starting GBCE and Park City Green. She says she used her network — including Terry McDonald, St. Vincent of Lane County’s executive director — to polish the particulars on the business plan for the mattress recycling venture.

Among those particulars, Houël had to decide whether to invest in more high-tech machines or go for hiring more people.

“So we’re obviously going to choose going for more people because that’s the purpose of our business,” Houël says. “Our mission is to employ people.”

Fresno Doesn’t Have to Look Far for Health, Wealth Building

(Credit: Food Commons Fresno)

Picture this: A mother tells her daughter to run down to the neighborhood grocery store to pick up some fresh produce for dinner. The family has an ownership stake in the market, where they can buy fruit and vegetables sourced from a nearby farm and freshly baked bread from a local bakery, both of which are in the grocery store’s “network.” On her way home with her purchases, the girl sees a truck from the store on its way to deliver food to people’s homes.

This is the vision of the Food Commons initiative, which now has a prototype in Fresno, California. The test includes a farm, a community supported agriculture-style subscription service, a wholesale business, and a commissary kitchen available to food truck owners and other food-related entrepreneurs in the city.

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A not-for-profit trust owns the for-profit business corporation. A financing arm, similar to a community development financial institution (CDFI), is in the works.

Fresno is an ideal city for testing the model. Located in California’s Central Valley, it’s in one of the nation’s primary agriculture producing regions. But the United States Department of Agriculture identifies nearly 100 census tracts in Fresno County as low-income food deserts. Much of the produce grown there is exported.

“There’s communities and things that have been left behind in how agriculture has evolved and how our food system has evolved, and we’re trying to go back to those neighborhoods that were left behind and find a way where they can prosper as well,” says Kiel Schmidt, operations and wholesale manager at Food Commons Fresno.

“Often farm labor is called unskilled labor but if you see the work that has to be done and actually experience that work, it’s highly skilled work,” Schmidt says. “But those jobs aren’t attached to high-earning wages and they don’t have retirement benefits, things like that.”

The Commons is aiming to build local wealth. Currently, workers at Food Commons Fresno make above California’s minimum wage of $10.50 per hour, with farm laborers starting at $12 per hour and packers at $11.

(Credit: Food Commons Fresno)

The venture is in startup mode right now but as it grows, there’s a plan to raise wages, Schmidt says. They also intend to implement an employee stock ownership program (ESOP) that would allow worker-owners to build equity in the business, and hold a direct public offer so that anyone in California can buy a share in the Food Commons.

“What we’re calling ourselves in many ways is like the Green Bay Packers of food,” says Jamie Harvie, Food Commons’ coordinating director at the national level. “It’s the only football team in the U.S. where the community has bought shares in this, so it’s why the Green Bay Packers is never really going to go up and leave Green Bay and why these fans are so crazily invested in their team.”

Additionally, the Commons has set up its governance, bylaws and articles of incorporation so that it would be hard to sell.

“We wanted to try to do the best we can to insure that if this concept is successful, that in 20 years or 30 years or 100 years, it would be very, very difficult for any one person or group to say, ‘man, the Food Commons is really successful. We’re going to sell it to some investor who doesn’t live in this community,’” says Warren King, development director of the Food Commons and president of the organization’s Community Corporation Board in Fresno. “We have plenty of evidence that that kind of structure is what’s hurt our communities. What created disinvestment in our communities.”

For Food Commons, relationships and word of mouth have been important, Schmidt says.

To run its successful CSA program, Food Commons Fresno works with about 10 farms year round and up to 40 others on a seasonal or one-time basis. Food Commons also works with suppliers to add non-produce products like coffee beans, olive oil, bread and chocolate to boxes. It also purchases goods like fruit jams and tomato sauces from the food production program at California State University, Fresno.

Food Commons Fresno supplies food for some anchor institutions, including the University of California, Merced, and Community Regional Medical Center, too, as well as some local restaurants and nonprofits.

“I think what we’re trying to convey is there are alternative ways to do this and we can do that so that community can fully fund and create a fully functional local food system,” says Harvie. “We want to explore and work with others who are interested in thinking holistically and thinking about place.”

Ferguson Baker Goes From Two Hand Mixers to Supplying Starbucks

Natalie DuBose, owner of Natalie’s Cakes & More (Credit: Starbucks)

Natalie DuBose, owner of Natalie’s Cakes and More in Ferguson, Missouri, was working out of a 700-square-foot kitchen with one oven, two hand mixers and a 6-foot foldable table when Starbucks came knocking in 2015.

That year, she began supplying a Ferguson outlet of the coffee chain giant with her baked goods. Now, DuBose supplies over 30 Starbucks stores with her signature caramel cake, which is also in several universities, seven grocery stores and eight gas stations in the St. Louis region. She’s doubled her kitchen space and added two ovens — and no longer uses hand mixers.

The first Ferguson Starbucks where DuBose’s cakes were sold is what the company calls an “opportunity store” — which it conceived to create local jobs, partner with minority-owned contractors and suppliers, and offer an in-store job skills training program. For the latter, Starbucks partners with a local nonprofit to train young people ages 16 to 24 who are not working or in school (often referred to as “disconnected youth”).

The first opportunity store opened in Jamaica, Queens, in 2015, and the model’s also in Phoenix; Englewood in Chicago; Baltimore; Long Beach, California; and White Center, near Seattle. In spring 2018, Starbucks will open one in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn.

“I’m excited to welcome Starbucks’ new store to Bed-Stuy,” Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams said in a statement about the plans. “This innovative concept will bring jobs, mentorship and training opportunities for our neighborhood’s young people. This store will brew the next generation of leaders in Bed-Stuy and ensure that area youth will have a venue to access resources, meet new people, and get the skills they need to enter the job market, all while enjoying a cup of coffee.”

According to Starbucks, through the opportunity store model, the company has used 19 minority-owned general construction suppliers and nine minority-owned general contractors, 43 percent of which have been women-owned businesses.

In New York City, Starbucks partnered with YMCA’s Y Roads Centers (created to reach disconnected youth) and Queens Community House to provide in-store training for youth. QCH has had a relationship with Starbucks for about a decade, says Dennis Redmond, chief strategy officer. The partnership is an extension of the Queens Connect Young Adult Food Sector Initiative, a collaborative employment program that trains and prepares youth for careers in food service and manufacturing.

“For over 40 years, we have been working to strengthen neighborhoods and bring special opportunities to individuals within the borough,” Ben Thomases, executive director at Queens Community House, said in a statement about the Jamaica, Queens, partnership. “This partnership with Starbucks allows us to help even more young people to develop their skills, launch their careers, and become meaningful contributors to their community.”

The partnership has led two Queens youth to jobs at Starbucks, says Redmond. Others have gone on to continue training with QCH and use its job placement assistance. In the coming year, the partnership aims to train 100 more youth.

A Starbucks opportunity store in White Center, near Seattle (Credit: Starbucks)

In addition to the forthcoming Bed-Stuy store, Starbucks plans to take the model to Miami Gardens, Trenton, Birmingham and Dallas over the next year. By the end of 2018, there will be 15 opportunity stores total.

Rodney Hines, director of social impact for U.S. operations at Starbucks, explains that the company developed an internal “suitability index” to identify the top 50 cities across the U.S. that could be good options for the model. It considers about seven criteria including enterprise zones, density size, unemployment rates, ethnic diversity and Starbucks’ presence in markets.

If a community is already committed to economic development that preserves the well-being of families in the various neighborhoods that’s a plus too.

“The joy of my work is to really thoughtfully think through and consider how do we actually do this in a way that is respectful, responsive to the community, to leaders and to others there locally and also responsible for our share to our shareholders,” Hines says. “But doing it in partnership with the local community.”

In addition to new jobs, training and partnerships with MWBEs (minority- and women-owned business enterprises), each store has a room available for local groups to host meetings and events.

Starbucks estimates that the opportunity stores have led to $59.7 million in indirect economic development created from store construction, $8.5 million average for indirect economic development per community, and created over 1,100 jobs indirectly.

Hines acknowledges there are challenges that come with the opportunity stores. For example, some youth trainees are dealing with homelessness and drug addiction.

“What we’ve had to learn quickly was how do we support our store managers so that they can better support those young people, but then how do we embrace the partnerships that we have with the local nonprofits and also the human resources that we have available here through the company,” Hines says. “How do we harness all of that so that we’re truly wrapping ourselves around the young people and the store managers who need that support too, with developing these young people.”

For small suppliers, Starbucks’ global reach can be overwhelming too, Hines says. He notes that he and his team have been thinking through how to continue to support the small businesses, help them grow and ensure that they have the right systems in place to be a great business partner with Starbucks, as well as other restaurants and grocery stores.

DuBose, however, has embraced the growth. When she first started as a Starbucks partner, she employed two people. That number has increased to 12 regular employees, a number that swells to 30 during the summer when she partners with a local organization on a youth entrepreneurship training program.

“I just thought I was going to be a local bakery,” says DuBose, who adds that her company will begin supplying 10 additional stores next month.

Natalie DuBose, owner of Natalie’s Cakes and More in Ferguson, Missouri, was working out of a 700-square-foot kitchen with one oven, two hand mixers and a 6-foot foldable table when Starbucks came knocking in 2015.

That year, she began supplying a Ferguson outlet of the coffee chain giant with her baked goods. Now, DuBose supplies over 30 Starbucks stores with her signature caramel cake, which is also in several universities, seven grocery stores and eight gas stations in the St. Louis region. She’s doubled her kitchen space and added two ovens — and no longer uses hand mixers.

The first Ferguson Starbucks where DuBose’s cakes were sold is what the company calls an “opportunity store” — which it conceived to create local jobs, partner with minority-owned contractors and suppliers, and offer an in-store job skills training program. For the latter, Starbucks partners with a local nonprofit to train young people ages 16 to 24 who are not working or in school (often referred to as “disconnected youth”).

The first opportunity store opened in Jamaica, Queens, in 2015, and the model’s also in Phoenix; Englewood in Chicago; Baltimore; Long Beach, California; and Seattle’s White Center. In spring 2018, Starbucks will open one in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn.

“I’m excited to welcome Starbucks’ new store to Bed-Stuy,” Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams said in a statement about the plans. “This innovative concept will bring jobs, mentorship and training opportunities for our neighborhood’s young people. This store will brew the next generation of leaders in Bed-Stuy and ensure that area youth will have a venue to access resources, meet new people, and get the skills they need to enter the job market, all while enjoying a cup of coffee.”

According to Starbucks, through the opportunity store model, the company has used 19 minority-owned general construction suppliers and nine minority-owned general contractors, 43 percent of which have been women-owned businesses.

In New York City, Starbucks partnered with YMCA’s Y Roads Centers (created to reach disconnected youth) and Queens Community House to provide in-store training for youth. QCH has had a relationship with Starbucks for about a decade, says Dennis Redmond, chief strategy officer. The partnership is an extension of the Queens Connect Young Adult Food Sector Initiative, a collaborative employment program that trains and prepares youth for careers in food service and manufacturing.

“For over 40 years, we have been working to strengthen neighborhoods and bring special opportunities to individuals within the borough,” Ben Thomases, executive director at Queens Community House, said in a statement about the Jamaica, Queens, partnership. “This partnership with Starbucks allows us to help even more young people to develop their skills, launch their careers, and become meaningful contributors to their community.”

The partnership has led two Queens youth to jobs at Starbucks, says Redmond. Others have gone on to continue training with QCH and use its job placement assistance. In the coming year, the partnership aims to train 100 more youth.

In addition to the forthcoming Bed-Stuy store, Starbucks plans to take the model to Miami Gardens, Trenton, Birmingham and Dallas over the next year. By the end of 2018, there will be 15 opportunity stores total.

Rodney Hines, director of social impact for U.S. operations at Starbucks, explains that the company developed an internal “suitability index” to identify the top 50 cities across the U.S. that could be good options for the model. It considers about seven criteria including enterprise zones, density size, unemployment rates, ethnic diversity and Starbucks’ presence in markets.

If a community is already committed to economic development that preserves the well-being of families in the various neighborhoods that’s a plus too.

“The joy of my work is to really thoughtfully think through and consider how do we actually do this in a way that is respectful, responsive to the community, to leaders and to others there locally and also responsible for our share to our shareholders,” Hines says. “But doing it in partnership with the local community.”

In addition to new jobs, training and partnerships with MWBEs (minority- and women-owned business enterprises), each store has a room available for local groups to host meetings and events.

Starbucks estimates that the opportunity stores have led to $59.7 million in indirect economic development created from store construction, $8.5 million average for indirect economic development per community, and created over 1,100 jobs indirectly.

Hines acknowledges there are challenges that come with the opportunity stores. For example, some youth trainees are dealing with homelessness and drug addiction.

“What we’ve had to learn quickly was how do we support our store managers so that they can better support those young people, but then how do we embrace the partnerships that we have with the local nonprofits and also the human resources that we have available here through the company,” Hines says. “How do we harness all of that so that we’re truly wrapping ourselves around the young people and the store managers who need that support too, with developing these young people.”

For small suppliers, Starbucks’ global reach can be overwhelming too, Hines says. He notes that he and his team have been thinking through how to continue to support the small businesses, help them grow and ensure that they have the right systems in place to be a great business partner with Starbucks, as well as other restaurants and grocery stores.

DuBose, however, has embraced the growth. When she first started as a Starbucks partner, she employed two people. That number has increased to 12 regular employees, a number that swells to 30 during the summer when she partners with a local organization on a youth entrepreneurship training program.

“I just thought I was going to be a local bakery,” says DuBose, who adds that her company will begin supplying 10 additional stores next month.

Startup Incubator Helps College Students on Path to Entrepreneurship

(Credit: Zahn Innovation Center)

Some students leave college with a degree and a jobs wish list — and some walk away with a business or an established entrepreneurial track record. Among the latter: many students involved in the City College of New York’s Zahn Innovation Center. The incubator, established in 2013, helps students with startup capital and developing their business ideas. At a May pitch competition, four groups won a total of $150,000 in seed money for their startups.

The incubator has launched over 100 startups, in tech, social impact and hardware.

City College of New York is home to about 16,000 students, 68 percent of whom are low-income. Thirty-two percent of the student body is Hispanic, 22 percent African-American, 22 percent Asian, and 24 percent white.

“Most of our students are the first in their family to go to college. They’re children of immigrants or immigrants themselves, and they’re chasing the American Dream,” Katherine Olives, of the Zahn Innovation Center, writes via email. “The Zahn Innovation Center gives them an opportunity to level their own playing field.”

Recognizing a lack of diversity in the startup world, as well as problems with limited access to capital and mentorship, colleges in cities across the U.S. have added such incubators to the mix of higher education. Some partner with and support a local nonprofit’s efforts. Others partner with city governments, and some, as with Zahn Innovation Center, launch their own on-campus hubs.

The center, according to Olives, is “a way for students to take what they learn in the classroom and apply it to the ‘real world.’ And it gives them a space to seek solutions for the issues they’re most concerned about.”

For example, take four students with a similar interest in addressing the varied challenges that people with illnesses and disabilities have to face. Amanda Bernstein, Ralph Hertz, Sam Tran, and Ankush Thakur, of the S.M.A.R.Tech team, developed an activity tracker that monitors daily therapy tasks for patients with cerebral palsy. They won the largest prize at the May competition, $50,000.

“Winning the prize is the difference between us being well on our way to a sustainable company in 2018 instead of 2020,” Hertz says.

In addition to the pitch competition, Zahn offers a co-working space, mentorship and rapid prototyping facilities, among other resources.

“We have an amazing support network and really great mentors that helped us move this project forward, finding out what exactly our market is, how we fulfill that need, figuring out the logistics for the business, connecting us with outside mentors and partners, providing prototyping facilities that we’ve used,” Thakur says.

Hertz’s mom has Type 1 diabetes, and for him, it’s been a dream to develop technology to assist people who have medical challenges in performing daily tasks.

Tran, who came to the U.S. from Vietnam about six years ago, says witnessing a lot of the aftereffects of the Vietnam War prompted him to want to figure out ways to use his skills and education to help people back home. Ankush was born in India and came to the U.S. when he was 4, and is bringing together his initial desire to become a doctor with an interest in both physics and technology.

Olives says the most recent Zahn cohort was big on collaboration. “Many of them shared skills so that everyone could take their prototypes and ventures to the next level,” she says.

The students from SyStem and City LABscape are a good example of collaboration.

Adrian Logan and Alex Babich won a $25,000 prize in the social impact category for SyStem, a computer-controlled garden that grows food in an acrylic box without soil or harmful chemicals. For every aspect of plant growth, the computer will adjust to make sure the right amount is applied in the box. For example, if the pH is too low, the computer will raise it to the level that will be most beneficial to the plant.

The team is trying to address both current and future food access problems. “The food should be growing where the people live,” Babich says.

Wei Zhang and Jorge Burgos, senior architecture students, and Sabrina Cohn, a sophomore studying environmental engineering, make up the City LABscape team. They’re working with middle schools to expose students to STEM study by growing plants.

Babich and Logan, of SyStem helped create the first plant pod for City LABscape.

Another team, WrkBook, aims to bridge the gap between contractors and workers. Potential employees create profiles on a website, and they’re matched with companies based on their skills. Two of the team members have relatives who work in construction and who inspired them to identify the problem to be solved.

“Our number one mission is that we’re trying to help people get jobs,” says WrkBook’s William De Andrade.

The winning teams will continue to develop their products, services and businesses at the incubator.

City Hopes Brooklyn Market Revamp Brings New Opportunity

(Photos by Deonna Anderson)

Walk along Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn toward the intersection of Caton Avenue, and you’ll start to hear reggae and soca music on the way to the Flatbush Caton Market. There are about 40 vendors there, most of Caribbean descent, and you can buy everything from coconut and jackfruit, to clothing printed with island flags.

The New York City Council in April approved a plan to demolish and replace the market with a new one, and add 250 units of affordable housing to the mix. Amid concerns about gentrification and displacement, the city is promising to preserve and expand the market — a retail center valued by many longtime residents — and support local entrepreneurs.

“Everybody who lives in Flatbush recognizes the changes that are happening,” says James Johnson-Piett, principal and CEO of Urbane Development, a partner in the project. “But I think the opportunity and promise in this project is to have a really strong gateway to Caribbean Flatbush. And to say, yes, there are changes happening but we’re still here.”

The development team worked with the Caribbean American Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CACCI), which currently manages the market, during the public input process, according to Meredith Marshall, managing partner and co-founder of BRP Development, the lead firm on the project. CACCI will still be part of the market, with its trade center located on the second floor of the facility. (One of the largest African-American-owned development companies in the U.S., BRP also has projects in Harlem, East New York and Bedford-Stuyvesant, and in New Jersey and Baltimore.)

Flatbush Caton Market was the brainchild of former City Councilwoman Una Clarke. The cultural hub opened as an outdoor market in 2000 and moved into its current building in 2002.

“I am very pleased to see the new visionary redevelopment of the Flatbush Caton Market,” Clarke said in a press release earlier this year. “When the initial vendors were moved from the streets to the parking lot with a tent as cover, I never thought they would end up in a building. The community congratulates [the Mayor Bill] de Blasio administration for the redevelopment of the site to provide affordable housing while preserving the market as a small business hub.”

Twenty-two percent of the 250 affordable units will be set aside for low-income residents, 30 percent for moderate-income, and 48 percent for middle-income. Preference will be given to those local to the district. BRP will be using Low-Income Housing Tax Credits to finance the project. Some capital — total estimated cost is $135 million — is coming from the city.

The new facility will also have a community space and a commercial kitchen that will serve as an incubator space for existing market vendors and community entrepreneurs.

On a recent Thursday in May, Isra Gordon, owner of Delicious Ending Catering and Tea House, was getting ready for her day’s work at the market. She has occupied a corner there for three and a half years and says she welcomes the redevelopment.

“It is just wonderful how they want this to happen for us,” she said. “They want to see us grow.”

While Gordon was visibly excited to talk about the project, others expressed nervousness or indifference.

Telma Reid, who has sold infant and children’s clothing in the market for two years, said she hopes the new market turns out better than what it is now.

“Right now, I don’t know if people know what we are,” she said, adding that she’s open to the change as long as developers keep veteran vendors in mind. From the outside, it’s currently unclear what is being sold in the blue-and-green-painted building. But take a walk through the market, and you’ll see vendors selling items that range from rice and beans to clothes and personal goods like shea butter and handmade soaps.

Unfortunately, foot traffic into the building in recent years has slowed down. And vendors say they have struggled to make money.

“If you make $90 now, it’s plenty,” said James White, a worker at the Golden Seven Music Enterprise booth. “And I’m talking about weekly.” He added that in the past, the market was packed. “You couldn’t even walk through here,” he said.

To address foot traffic concerns, the development partners plan to run a marketing campaign.

“The market doesn’t have any branding whatsoever,” Marshall said. “So, we’re going to work on rebranding, have a whole digital strategy. As part of the development, you’re going to see a lot of attention paid to the market, basically rebrand the market and revamp some of the products and services that are sold at the market.” The NYC Economic Development Corporation made an agreement with the developers that ensures existing vendors will pay comparable rents to what they are today in the new space.

As those vendors prepare to relocate to a temporary space less than a mile away this fall, where they will remain during the new construction, Urbane has also been meeting with them one-on-one to prepare for the move and get to know their needs, goals and challenges. With that data, Urbane has developed a curriculum of entrepreneurial support, with a focus on core business planning and operation, as well as tailored information for vendors in specific industries, such as textiles, food and personal goods. Vendors are also receiving financial assistance with relocation costs.

“We recognize that every time you move a business, it’s going to be a challenge,” Johnson-Piett says.

Rochester Takes Startup Approach to Worker Cooperatives

(Photo by Evilarry)

A new nonprofit with a goal to support the creation of more worker cooperatives in Rochester, New York, touted its first achievement in April. The nonprofit, the Market Driven Community Corporation (MDCC), announced that a brand-new cooperative, ENEROC, landed a deal to install LED lighting at Rochester General Hospital.

“Creating accessible jobs within our city strengthens our neighborhoods and provides greater opportunities for all its residents,” said Mayor Lovely A. Warren in a press release about the news. “The Market Driven Community Corporation enhances this aim by launching cooperatives like ENEROC that empower our residents to eventually become worker-owners of a competitive business.”

In a city where about 33 percent of households live below the federal poverty line, Warren and fellow co-op supporters want to see an entire network of companies spring up to serve anchor institutions like universities and hospitals. Warren and her Office of Innovation led the way in creating the MDCC over the last year to foster that growth, but the nonprofit is now independent.

ENEROC already has three workers on board and is expected to create up to 14 new jobs in its first year. To start, workers will make $12 to $15 per hour, and once they’re voted in as “worker-owners,” they’ll start building equity in the company. Though there are fewer than 400 worker-cooperative businesses in the U.S., from Oakland to Austin to New York City, many see them as a source of well-paying jobs and a model through which marginalized residents can build wealth.

ENEROC will be a subcontractor in the hospital lighting project, through local company Lumalon, which will also help with training the new workers. Doug Caswell, ENEROC’s business manager, says he’s expecting to hire one to two more people by mid-May for another contract that is currently in negotiations. Those jobs will go to residents from high-poverty neighborhoods.

Caswell and Henry Fitts, director of Rochester’s Office of Innovation, say workers come through RochesterWorks, an employment and training initiative, and community organizations like Bridges to Success and Family Independence Initiative.

“MDCC is bringing a new strategy for economic development to our community,” Fitts says. “This is really a new comprehensive approach that starts with long-term sustainability in mind and it starts with organizations that are rooted in our communities that are not going anywhere.”

To tap into the natural anchor institution customer base, representatives from Rochester Regional Health, University of Rochester, Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College are on the MDCC board.

“We know they’re going to be here for decades to come and we can rely on their purchasing power as potential reliable source of demand that we can build businesses around that we know will be here also for years to come and those jobs that they create will be long term,” Fitts says.

Cleveland-based Democracy Collaborative, a national research institute that focuses on equitable economies, worked with the city of Rochester to develop its worker cooperative strategy. Democracy Collaborative helped to start Evergreen Cooperatives, a network of worker co-ops in Cleveland, and that experience offered good lessons for this latest endeavor. A key takeaway: the need to set up a nonprofit like MDCC to facilitate the business development process and serve as a resource for the Rochester business community. MDCC serves to screen business ideas in terms of competitiveness and sustainability. Before ENEROC launched, two other co-op ideas were nixed.

MDCC fits into a larger effort to reduce poverty in Rochester.

The Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative hopes to reduce poverty by 50 percent over 15 years. In 2013, “Special Report: Poverty and the Concentration of Poverty in the Nine-County Greater Rochester Area” revealed that the region was the fifth poorest in the United States among the top 75 largest metropolitan areas, and Rochester itself was second poorest among comparably sized cities in those metro areas.

Melissa Marquez, CEO of Genesee Co-Op Credit Union and an MDCC board member, says she hopes MDCC and startups like ENEROC will help her credit union members and their families, many of whom are people of color, immigrants and refugees, by opening up long-term career paths. Many are also temporary workers.

“They go from temp job to temp job to temp job. They are the lowest is terms in of pay,” Marquez says. “They’re the ones who typically have less in terms of income and wealth.”

In addition to connecting to businesses that might be customers for new co-ops, MDCC will serve as a resource for businesses that are interested in transitioning to a co-op business model. While it doesn’t work for every company, Fitts says, “We’re hoping to build visibility and show that this is an option and about the benefits.”