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Kent State Helps to Transform Lives Beyond Campus With Launch of Evergreen Cooperative Laundry in Cleveland

Posted Jan, 29, 2010

Employee-owned green business offers residents an opportunity to go from poverty to paycheck

An idea that was sparked in December 2006 at a community wealth building summit has become a reality with the launch of Evergreen Cooperative Laundry, an employee-owned cooperative designed by the Ohio Employee Ownership Center (OEOC) at Kent State University and a product of the Greater University Circle initiative and the Cleveland Foundation. It is the first of a group of employee-owned cooperatives in Cleveland’s Greater University Circle area, home to some of the country’s richest nonprofit institutions yet surrounded by some of the poorest urban neighborhoods. The cooperatives are meant to help build community wealth to transform Cleveland and change lives.

Photo of Jim AndersonThe Cleveland Foundation turned to Kent State’s OEOC, a leading support organization for employee ownership, to take a look at the feasibility of setting up local green businesses to meet the needs of Cleveland’s major anchor institutions and then recruit and train local residents to work these newly created jobs. The OEOC is a Kent State University-based program housed in the Department of Political Science that provides assistance to employees who are trying to buy the businesses they work at and retiring owners who choose to sell to their employees.

“The Ohio Employee Ownership Center also works with 80 employee-owned companies, providing training and development programs,” explained Dr. John Logue, who up until his death in December 2009 was the director of the OEOC and a major contributor to the success of launching Evergreen Cooperative Laundry along with OEOC Program Coordinator Jim Anderson. “Now with Evergreen, we’re in the business of starting new businesses.”

The Cleveland Foundation relied on the OEOC and its expertise in employee ownership. “We brought in the OEOC to look at Evergreen Cooperative Laundry as the first business to launch and met these amazing people like Jim Anderson and John Logue, and it’s been a happy partnership ever since,” said India Pierce Lee, program director for Neighborhoods, Housing and Community Development at the Cleveland Foundation. “The years of work that John has done with the OEOC and his wealth of knowledge as to setting up these cooperatives and what it takes to make them successful was so helpful. We leaned on them for their expertise to set them up and determine the structures needed as we go forward.”

The OEOC conducted the feasibility study, developed the business plan, and worked on the acquisition of equipment, site selection and construction to prepare the site.

Located on East 105th Street in Cleveland, the $5.8-million laundry accepted its first order on Oct. 23, 2009. It specializes in health care laundry for Cleveland-area hospitals and nursing homes, including the Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals. Evergreen Cooperative Laundry is also the region’s first LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified commercial laundry facility. LEED is an internationally recognized green building certification system developed by the U.S. Green Building Council. Evergreen has the smallest carbon footprint of any industrial-scale laundry in Northeast Ohio.

The energy-efficient laundry currently has 10 employees and runs up to 2 million pounds of laundry a year. “It has the capacity to handle up to 10 million pounds of laundry a year, and when we’re running up to capacity, we anticipate we’ll have 50 employees,” said Anderson, who also serves as Evergreen Cooperative Laundry’s business manager. “The folks who are now employed with Evergreen will then train the next folks who join the cooperative.

“The goal of Evergreen is to take people from poverty to paycheck,” Anderson continued. “The majority of the employees have had some difficulty in their past. They have spent time in prison. Evergreen gives them a way to rebuild their lives and have the opportunity to own a piece of the business.”

Workers who join Evergreen serve as temporary employees for the first six months. After six months, they are invited to join the cooperative. They earn $10.50 an hour plus benefits and are asked to pay $3,000 to pay for their stake in the business. To build equity in their firm as an owner of the business, 50 cents an hour is taken out of each paycheck, so at the end of three years, the $3,000 is paid and the employee gets to share in the profits. The Evergreen employees receive superior training in operations, life skills, and sustainability and ownership principles, empowering their performance at work.

“All of us at Kent State are enormously proud that the Cleveland Foundation turned to the Ohio Employee Ownership Center to lay the groundwork for the laundry,” said Kent State President Lester A. Lefton during a ceremony to mark Evergreen’s grand opening. “As an institution committed to excellence and focused on translating ideas into impact, Kent State looks forward to supporting the exciting evolution of the Evergreen brand. In the meantime, it’s a privilege to be part of an initiative that not only will transform the lives of individuals and families, but that holds so much potential for transforming Greater Cleveland itself.”

Lillian Kuri, the Cleveland Foundation’s program director for Architecture, Urban Design and Sustainable Development, said Evergreen would not have been possible without the OEOC. “I’ve come to learn that the OEOC at Kent State is really an exceptional asset in the region that is well-recognized nationally,” she said. “People know about the center and the power of work they do. It reminds me that we don’t really know what incredible assets we have in our community. This is something that we have that hardly any communities have, and we are lucky to have John and Jim because none of this would have been possible without them. They have the knowledge of employee ownership, how to start it up and all the legal aspects. They also brought to the table a real business approach to what we’re doing.”

The OEOC continues to provide training to Evergreen Cooperative Laundry workers and its supervisors, ensuring that the business and its workers succeed. In addition to the laundry, the Cleveland Foundation plans to have nine other businesses up and running in the next three to five years employing 500 to 600 people in those neighborhoods.

Logue said that Evergreen is a model for the rest of the country that has already generated an amount of interest in other cities like Detroit. “The model of using the procurement dollars of those big anchor nonprofit institutions in University Circle to create better jobs with better wages and better benefits is a model that can be replicated anywhere in the United States,” Logue said. “We make it work in Cleveland, it’s highly transferable to anywhere in the country. It can make a real difference for those people who have less opportunity in this economy than anyone can wish.”

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Photo Caption: Jim Anderson, program coordinator of Kent State University’s Ohio Employee Ownership Center and business manager of Evergreen Cooperative Laundry, said the goal of Evergreen is “to take people from poverty to paycheck.”

Media Contact:
Emily Vincent, evincen2@kent.edu, 330-672-8595