Building a New Economy

Construction companies seem ripe for the co-op model. The very nature of contracting means a team effort. Along the I-5 corridor between Bellingham and Olympia, there are three construction co-ops and more interested.

Northwest Construction Co-op in Olympia focuses on home remodeling with specialty in tile and linoleum. This co-op was part of the legacy of the Eggplant with some of its founding members also part of New Moon Café. Former members of the co-op also went on to form two other co-ops: Business Services Co-op and the NW Painting Co-op. They are not just building homes, these folks are also building co-operatives. As I understand, part of the spin-offs arose (in part) from the activities not being a core service of the co-op and it seemed smarter for the co-op to focus on its strengths and create new co-ops (something that I wish Union Cab had done back in 1992 instead of trying to keep everything in house).

Along with NWCC, at the other end of the corridor in Bellingham, A-1 Builders converted to a worker co-op in 2017. They have done an incredible job of documenting the process of their transformation. The following is a small piece of it and you can find more on their website:

“Looking back, it’s no surprise how appealing the cooperative model was to this progressive, often radical, dynamic duo.  Simply put, a worker-owned cooperative can be defined as. ‘…owners [who] pool their resources to operate a member-owned and governed business, that is guided by a set of principles, for common benefit.’ 

“Rick and Cindi articulated a number of goals for succession:

  1. Create a values-based organization that adheres to triple-bottom-line management…not just the traditional focus upon one’s bottom line.  Instead the three critical success factors would be people, planet and profit [sometimes referred to as the three ‘P’s’].
  2. Those employees who helped create our success should be rewarded with success.  “Work it!  Own it!””

The last co-op to talk about today is Mētis Construction in Seattle. Mētis is a Employee Trust which is not quite the same as a co-op; however, it is also worker controlled. The fundamental difference is that the trust “is structured to prevent any individual or group from profiting from the sale of the company thus ensuring worker ownership of the company in perpetuity.” This helps preserve the character of the organization and prevents the co-op from selling itself to a competitor.

The values statement of Mētis states:

“Mētis is committed to exploring the ways in which racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, ageism and other forms of discrimination operate consciously and unconsciously to shape and limit the social and economic worlds we inhabit. We believe that implicit bias plays an even more profound role than explicit bias when it comes to discriminatory behavior – we believe that structural bias underwrites inequality.’

These three worker-owned businesses demonstrate how valuable the co-op model can be in the development of the person as well as the economy. Co-ops offer more than a decent job (or at least they should). They offer a place for people to grow and develop and achieve the best of themselves. Co-ops should create a space that improves their industry and the larger community as a whole.

These co-ops aren’t just building homes and and workplaces, they are building community.

About John McNamara

John spent 26 years with Union Cab of Madison Cooperative and currently helps develop co-ops in the Pacific Northwest. He holds a Ph.D. in Business Administration and Masters in Management: Co-operatives and Credit Unions from Saint Mary's University.
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