San Francisco Bay Area

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Long-standing Worker Co-op Community in a Thriving Multi-City Region

 

The San Francisco Bay Area is  a nine-county region comprising dozens of cities of all sizes, resource levels, governance models, and economic drivers. In the midst of a tech industry boom, the Bay Area is undergoing intense gentrification, with displacement reaching crisis levels as low-wage workers and people of color move out to far-flung suburbs. The area is also home to a large progressive community, diverse nonprofit and social enterprise sectors, and many values-driven capital providers.

 

The Bay Area has the most worker cooperatives of any metropolitan area in the United States, and many are several decades old. Almost one-third of the largest worker co-ops (with more than 50 employees) in the country are here. The tight-knit co-op community has substantial capital assets and an experienced workforce that shares best practices. More than one-third of these businesses are in retail, enhancing co-ops’ public profile, and a similar percent are in the food industry, providing ample opportunity to do business with each other. Some of the older co-ops have spun off new cooperatives, providing technical assistance and financing. There are also several pioneering worker co-op developers, a local network of worker co-ops, and a healthy appetite for innovation and scale.

Ecosystem Analysis 

The Bay Area ecosystem has a solid foundation of Essential Elements, and its Environmental Elements are favorable for worker cooperatives. The greatest opportunities for scale may be with the Important Elements, which are in nascent stages of development.

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Strong Elements in This Ecosystem

– Member Skills and Capacity of longstanding worker co-ops and experienced Co-op Developers
– Knowledgeable and accessible Technical Assistance providers
– Values-Driven Businesses, including 56 worker co-ops and many Certified B Corps, green businesses, and ESOPs
– Local Attitudes and Culture supportive of social innovation
– Opportunities to build and leverage strengths in this ecosystem:
– Form Advocacy Partnerships with values-driven business groups and social movements
– Promote Policy initiatives to build legitimacy, incentives, and funding for worker co-op development, possibly in a staged city-by-city approach
– Build on recent local market assessments to develop Connection to Market strategies

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Food for Thought

Collaborative action may be the key to taking this Cooperative Growth Ecosystem to scale. How can Bay Area cooperative developers leverage the expertise and capital of their thriving worker cooperative community to support advocacy, policy initiatives, and connection-to-market strategies? How can local foundations, impact investors, and anchor institutions help growth-oriented worker co-op developers succeed? Perhaps the housing crisis and accelerating gentrification present an opportunity to make a case for shared ownership as a path to community stability. Is there an opportunity for a city-by-city policy approach or are there regional agencies or consortia that could be allies?