City of Berkeley Commits $100,000 to Worker Cooperative Development

BERKELEY, CA (June 26, 2019) — Last night, Berkeley City Council adopted a two-year budget committing $100,000 to local worker cooperative development programs and services. The funds will go toward vastly expanding a worker cooperative development pilot program that was launched by the City's Office of Economic Development earlier this year. 

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Almost 30 worker cooperative members and advocates attended the City Council meeting to demonstrate their support. 

The pilot program provides business succession planning and worker cooperative conversion services to Berkeley businesses that are at risk of closure. The new funds -- which more than triple the pilot program’s initial funding -- will help extend services through the summer of 2021, increase the number of businesses that can be served, and expand the scope of services to support not only conversion of existing businesses, but also worker cooperative startups. 

A study commissioned by the City’s Office of Economic Development and conducted by Project Equity reveals that more than 1,200 Berkeley businesses will be in need of succession planning services over the next 15 years. Those 1,200 businesses account for $1.6 billion, or 60% of Berkeley's small business revenue, and one in three local jobs. Berkeley, like most US cities, will need to redouble its investments in succession planning in order to preserve even a fraction of its local businesses as primarily Baby Boomer business owners reach retirement.

Though the task that lies ahead is daunting, the City of Berkeley is making a concerted effort to address the issue head on. Project Equity, an Oakland-based nonprofit and ally of the Sustainable Economies Law Center, has been leading the Berkeley worker cooperative development pilot program in partnership with the Office of Economic Development. About halfway through the 18 month pilot, the City has been met with an outsized demand for the worker cooperative and succession planning services on offer. 

Over 250 Berkeley businesses have received succession planning information from Project Equity through the program, and four businesses -- the maximum provided for in the pilot -- will receive comprehensive technical support in their transition to worker-ownership. The four businesses selected for the pilot span the retail, industrial, and construction/design-build sectors and one of them, Adams & Chittenden Scientific Glass, is on track to complete its worker cooperative conversion early this summer. All in all, these businesses represent a total of 75 local jobs, but with this new commitment of funds, the City will be able to affect hundreds more. 

The Law Center, along with partner organizations and worker coop members and advocates, are celebrating this expanded investment in worker cooperative development services. Looking ahead, the Law Center’s Policy Director, Yassi Eskandari, stated: “I'm grateful for this milestone and will continue to work closely with Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin and various City departments to ensure that Berkeley is doing everything it can to be the premiere location for cooperative businesses.”

Questions? Contact Charlotte Tsui at 510-833-7352 / charlotte@theselc.org 

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