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Chicago Forum Focuses on Cooperative Business Development

Events like the Madison Cooperative Jobs Conference are occurring in other cities as economic development staff, business owners, entrepreneurs, and citizens explore how cooperatives can be part of economic development efforts. Having attended the June conference on cooperatives in Madison, staff from the Center for Workplace Democracy in Chicago presented its own Forum on Developing Cooperative Businesses in Chicago in October.

The forum was targeted to economic development professionals, and those interested in cooperatives. UWCC’s Lynn Pitman presented on the economic impact of cooperatives in the U.S. economy, and participated in a discussion about cooperative development models.

A highlight of the forum was a panel discussion by worker-owners of the New Era Windows Cooperative, a worker-owned cooperative that bought the Republic Windows and Doors factory this past year. Republic abruptly shut down the factory and declared bankruptcy in 2008, causing 240 workers to lose their jobs. Protests over the layoffs led to the factory being purchased by a manufacturer of energy efficient windows and the rehiring of some of the workers, but in early 2012 the new owner, a California-based company, decided to close the plant.

This time the workers decided to organize as a worker cooperative and purchase the factory themselves, thinking that they had the most at stake in seeing the factory, which appeared to be a profitable enterprise, continue operations. Workers persevered in their efforts, and with support from United Electrical Workers Union, The Working World, a nonprofit that provides investment capital and technical support for worker cooperatives, and the Center for Workplace Democracy, the workers have purchased the factory. Sales and production were planned to begin in 2013.

An estimated 180 people attended the forum, which also included additional panel discussions by local cooperative businesses, and a presentation on the Mondragon worker cooperatives in the Basque region of Spain.


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