I am surea that I don’t need to tell any of the readers of this blog that it is the International Year of the Co-operative. The United Nations designation has paid tribute to our economic model exactly at the time that the world needs a better economic model: one that allows communities to keep their identity, maintains decent jobs, and builds a sustainable economic structure at the local, national and global level.
To that end, there are a number of conferences this year that will be focusing on these themes. One of the first, and I hope, not the least will be the Madison Cooperative Business Conference.
A Little History
This conference began, in a sense, right here at The Workers’ Paradise. Back in January of 2011, I began discussing the upcoming Mayoral Election. Both major candidates had invoked the idea of cooperatives as an economic model and I hope that this would actually become an issue for two candidates that were almost identical in their approach, philosophy, and support. As that campaign began to gain steam, the Governor of Wisconsin unleased his vision for the economy. This only pushed the idea of cooperation even more. As the candidates began talking to the people of Madison, the word co-operative started to become repeated. One candidate engaged in the call-and-response which is why I urged co-op members to vote for Paul Soglin. Paul won by just 363 votes or about 182 voters (less than the total number of worker co-op members in the City of Madison.
We gave Paul a few months to settle in and then a number of co-operators asked about the conference. The Mayor stepped up and assigned key staff people to it. Despite a difficult budget year, he found matching funds for the conference.
(June 7, 2012, with a pre-conference seminar on June 6, 2012)
We wanted this conference to be different that most of the other conferences. We wanted to focus our attention on three groups of people: City and Regional Planners who might not see the co-op model as viable for delivering services and solving problems, business owners interested in retiring, and people interested in starting a co-operative to solve a failure in the market. We want people who are new to the co-op model to attend. We want business owners to learn that they can escape capital gains taxes by selling their business to their workers (they get retirement and the legacy of their life’s work continues). We want communities to see how co-operatives might help provide solutions to homelessness, hunger or even provide new fancy destination projects such as a Public Market. The key note speaker will be Roy Messing from the Ohio Employment Ownership Center out of Kent State. There will also be speakers from Richmond, CA (Terry Baird, assistant to the Mayor in charge of worker coop development) and from the Quebec ( Michel Clement, from Co-operative Development Management). In adiditon to a number of workshops, the conference will end with a plenary discussion about how to move forward and start putting the ideas into action in the Dane County area.
What You Can Do
If you are in Madison, register and attend the conference! It is only $25 for the day (and $25 for the pre-conference seminar with Roy Messing)–$40 for both events. More importantly, if you know someone in the South-Central Wisconsin area who owns an business and is within 10 years of seeking retirement (think of your favorite locally owned company), urge them to attend (or at least send their accountant).
If you are not in Madison, or can’t be during the conference, then please let your friends know and encourage any business owners you know to attend.
Conferences can only do so much and this one has been specifically designed to ignite people who aren’t knowledgable about co-ops. It is designed for people whose kids might not want the family business, but don’t want to see their life’s work disappear when they retire (conversly, for the kids who inherited a business and would rather do something else, but don’t want to lose their parent’s legacy). It is for communities that want to start building a sustainable infrastructure and looking for ways to solve problems without having to depend on diminishing State and Federal assistance.
Unfortunatley, I cannot attend, but I hope that this gets a large turnout and that we will one day be able to look back at this conference as a turning point for Dane County, if not Wisconsin.