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Initiative Launched To Grow Jobs In Poor Neighborhoods

By Paul Tuthill

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/wamc/local-wamc-997146.mp3

Springfield, MA – A pilot program to develop worker owned businesses in places with high unemployment and poverty is coming to western Massachusetts. WAMC's Paul Tuthill reports.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has awarded a 200 thousand dollar grant, one of just a dozen nationwide, for a two year initiative to build employee-owned companies in the inner-city neighborhoods of Springfield, where experts say the true unemployment rate exceeds 25 percent.
A healthcare advocacy organization, Partners for a Healthier Community, was awarded the grant. Executive Director Frank Robinson says it will be used, along with local matching funds, to create a first worker owned company and establish the infrastructure for a network of additional companies.
The project in Springfield, which is called the Wellspring Initiative is modeled after Evergreen Cooperatives in Cleveland Ohio. It launched three worker owned businesses. A green laundry, a hydrdoponic greenhouse , and a solar panel installation business. Many of the worker-owners of these businesses were unemployed or even homeless before becoming involved with Evergreen Cooperatives.
Fred Rose, from the UMass Amherst Center for Public Policy and Adminstration, who is serving as consultant to the Wellspring Initiative , says the Evergreen Cooperatives model uses the purchasing power of large employers, the so-called local anchor institutions to grow demand for new jobs.
Rose said research indicates that Springfield's largest employers purchase less than ten percent of their goods and services locally.
Under consideration for the Wellspring Initative's first business is a food hub that would distribute locally produced food products. Another idea under study is a business to provide construction services.
One of Springfield's largest employers, Baystate Health, contributed 50 thousand dollars to the initiative. Steven Bradley, the vice president of government affairs and community relations, said the healthcare provider tries to spend as much locally as it can.
In addition to Baystate Health, other large employers, including MassMutual , Providence Health System and U-Mass Amherst contributed funds to match the grant. Several local colleges, the Pioneer Valley AFL-CIO, and some social service agencies have provided in-kind contributions.