How Cleveland, Ohio, and Preston, Lancashire, are bringing it all back homeby Ted Howard / July 13, 2019 / Leave a comment
Just occasionally, something exceptional emerges from a town or city in crisis. New ideas are deployed to meet the challenges. Communities like Cleveland in the US and Preston in England were left in freefall by the collapse of traditional industry and the failure of trickle-down economics. Thanks to local efforts, what emerged from the chaos was a new model—one I call “community wealth building.”
The idea is to grow the economy from the bottom up. You make better use of local assets—like the purchasing power of non-profit and public institutions—to create opportunities for local businesses. You reverse extractive patterns of outsourcing and disinvestment. The end result is the revival of once struggling towns and cities. Importantly, the evidence shows that this is more than theory—a recent PwC study named Preston, one of the most distressed communities just a few short years ago, as the most improved city in the UK.
Community wealth building is not merely a way to smooth over the rough edges of an ultimately sound economic system. It is the kernel of a comprehensive new approach, which is why Marjorie Kelly and I called our forthcoming book The Making of a Democratic Economy. The redirection of spending by local public institutions has grabbed most attention, but it is part of a broader toolbox which is still being furnished. Ultimately, community wealth building is a set of principles—democratised ownership, local investment, and so on—that allow us to intervene in practical ways to create a new economic model, with “the local” at its core.
There is no shortage of examples of this method being put to use. Consider, for instance, the Evergreen cooperatives in Cleveland. This network of businesses, owned by local workers, was one of the first comprehensive models built around the procurement streams of local hospitals and universities. With a wealth of experience, Evergreen is well placed to support individual cooperatives. Now the network is advancing further, taking on responsibility for the laundry service at the Cleveland Clinic care centre. Work that was previously done by a multinational, outsourcing firm will be taken on by locally-owned businesses. In return, the clinic will invest in key upgrades at Evergreen’s new facility, advancing local prosperity and shoring up a more reliable supply chain. Perhaps most importantly, Evergreen is launching an ambitious new…