Just released by the Cleveland Foundation, the new report Cleveland's Greater University Circle Initiative: Building a 21st Century City through the Power of Anchor Institution Collaboration provides a thorough overview of a long-term partnership among some of the city's key anchor institutions to foster inclusive, place-based community economic development. With innovative anchor-supported solutions around housing, transit, workforce training, and local procurement, the Greater University Circle Initiative is an effort that's well worth studying by other cities looking to leverage existing institutional assets to revitalize and rebuild their communities.
The Evergreen Cooperatives, one of the most visible pieces of the Initiative, offers a powerful example of the benefits these kinds of integrated anchor stategies can bring to economically marginalized neighborhoods, something this Evergreen worker's comments in the report makes clear:
Rodney, 31, had been working temporary construction jobs for three years when the real estate market tanked in 2009 and he found himself unemployed. Even before then, the work had been tenuous and unpredictable: He was often unsure where his next job would come from, and when.
Now he’s a washroom technician at Evergreen Laundry, where he works regular 40-hour weeks and makes about twice his former wages as a construction worker—with free health care for his family, including his two young children.
“Every morning I get up and know I have somewhere to go, a way to take care of my family,” he says. “It gave me more security, more stability.”
Like all employees of Evergreen cooperative businesses, Rodney will be eligible to own company stock through payroll deductions once he completes a one-year probation period.
“The ownership makes me part of where I work,” he says, “so I’m shooting not only for my own goals, but I also have more motivation to see the company succeed—to see it take off, maybe have other branches open.”
Rodney and his coworkers process up to 8,000 pounds of institutional laundry per eight-hour shift—with clients ranging from nursing homes to hospitals to hotels. Beyond that, he attends regular meetings with other co-op members, where they discuss their goals for the company, their own careers and their personal lives. “It’s like family,” he says. “We’re friends and we support each other at work and outside of work.”
That’s especially true for Rodney, who bought a house in the Buckeye-Shaker neighborhood through a specific initiative to assist Evergreen employees in buying homes. He now lives next door to one of his coworkers at the laundry and within a three-minute walk of another.
He loves the house, a new-construction colonial with three bedrooms, one and a half bathrooms, and a big yard—a vast improvement over the rental unit where he’d lived before. His mortgage payment comes directly out of his paycheck.
But the best part for Rodney? The sense of being rooted, not just to a stable job, but to a neighborhood where people are genuinely connected.
“Before, I was just working, getting by,” he says. “Now there’s a community.”
And as exciting as Evergreen is, what's more exciting is that's it really just the tip of the Greater University Circle Initiative iceberg, which, as Ronald Richard, Cleveland Foundation president and CEO, notes in his preface, has also produced in its first eight years:
• A leadership table that provides the first-ever form for collaboration among GUCI institutions;
• An evolving local procurement program to funnel more of the district’s $3 billion of purchasing power to local businesses;
• A workforce training center that builds on a national successful model;
• A comprehensive community engagement strategy emphasizing the power of networks;
• More than $140 million in new, public-private development that has boosted the area’s commercial and residential base.
Read the full report here.