NYC Elected Officials Mel King Community Fellows, 2017-2018

NYC Elected Officials visiting Mondragon.

NYC Elected Officials visiting Mondragon.

The Fellows

Policy makers at the City and State legislative level in New York have struggled for years to focus on and advance a set of policies, governmental programs, and public investments that can comprehensively advance the economic conditions of residents in low income and communities of color.  For the last 30 years this population has been declining economically while NYC has grown tremendously economically and continues to attract people from around the world for some of the best job and business opportunities. 

For years within the legislatures there has been is a growing interest in advancing new strategies for community and economic development amongst low income and communities of color.  Given today’s challenging political climate at the national level and concerns about the support of the federal government, there’s a heightened interest and desire to advance a proactive vision that is counter to the regressive and exclusionary forces that have been gaining ground.  Instead of constantly “putting out fires” legislators are increasingly expressing the desire and interest to advance more comprehensive, systematic, and citizen engaged policies and strategies for changing the material conditions of communities. There is a growing desire for community wealth building, more effective job creation connected to energy, health and manufacturing; local minority owned business creation tied to local procurement, improved health and wellness; and significant increases in housing affordability in the face of large scale displacement pressures.

To support the necessary partnership building, learning community, and strategic visioning to begin realizing this expressed desire, CoLab has appointed a group of 13 City and State legislators and 2 additional policy experts to be the Mel King Community Fellows class for 2017/2018.

This Mel King Community Fellows class is comprised of black and latino legislators from the Bronx and Brooklyn, building on CoLab’s work of supporting the development of major, comprehensive, place-based economic democracy strategies underway in both boroughs. In the Bronx, CoLab has been supporting the Bronx Cooperative Development Initiative for the last 6 years, advancing a model of establishing a Community Enterprise Network. This has been a critical source of exploration into the practical means for building economic democracy in a place. In central Brooklyn, there has been a health and wellness development strategy underway for the last 3 years, which formed part of the strategy behind the New York State’s Vital Brooklyn initiative. Legislators from these boroughs are a critical set of stakeholders to advance these on the ground models for economic democracy and self-determination and to advance policy and legislation that opens exciting opportunities for economic democracy across the city and state.

These officials have indicated that supporting principles of economic democracy and the development in New York of worker cooperatives and employee owned business is a key legislative priority for 2018 and central to building a more equal economy. Specifically, the NYC Council’s Progressive Caucus recently published its “Policy Platform” for the next City Council term and included among its 18 proposals a focus on achieving “Economic democracy through worker cooperatives and day labor centers” (pp. 5, 13). Similarly, members of the State Senate including Sen. Jamaal Bailey have introduced new legislation, S5685, which “provides several updates and revisions to current law to support the expansion of employee-owned enterprises or worker cooperative businesses.” Sens. Bailey, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the Democratic Conference Leader, and Squadron, Chair of the Democratic Policy Working Group, all have indicated that supporting worker cooperatives will be among the Democratic Conference’s legislative priorities in 2018. These efforts and others represent a solid foundation for advancing concrete policy and advocacy goals for a comprehensive and strategic agenda for economic democracy in NYC and Albany.

The Program

The organizing theme for the 2017/18 class of MIT Mel King Community Fellows is to formulate a deeper understanding among New York City and State Elected Officials around prospective models for community-driven economic development tied to shared wealth and ownership.

The fellowship kicked off with a weeklong learning trip to Mondragon in Spain to explore the possibilities of advancing economic democracy through City and State government.  This provided the fellows with a deep understanding of the successful models of economic democracy and developed strategic alignment with and among legislators around advancing a progressive economic development agenda in New York that is informed and inspired by the experience of Mondragon’s success in restructuring the local economy and achieving a high level of social and economic equity.

Arguably, there is no place better in world for the study of how worker cooperatives and employee ownership can help achieve significant equity measures (high income and wealth equality, very low unemployment locally, strong and stable business growth) than the Mondragon Corporation--one of the leading business groups in Spain with $33b in assets and 85,000 employees, most of whom have an ownership stake in one of the 120+ worker cooperatives within the business group. The model of Mondragon is instructive for New York City and State officials because it also represents an ecosystem of institutions that support worker-owned businesses and community wealth in sectors like education, research and development, banking and more. This ecosystem is supported by public policies that provide a basic legal infrastructure for these businesses to access a fair playing field for capital and talent.

The Fellows then spent the following four months developing a set of low-hanging policy and programming opportunities to advance within the first year of Post the trip to Mondragon. In a January convening, the fellows aligned on city policy and programming opportunities, with a particular focus on anchor and city procurement, local MWBE certification, and advanced manufacturing priorities. Additionally, the fellowship began to explore strategies to strengthen state worker cooperative incorporation law.  

The Fellowship reconvened at MIT in April to meet with Mel King, Boston elected officials and community leaders, and to establish a strategic plan for the remaining five months of the fellowship. Through the convening, the Fellowship decided to focus its work into two sub-groups:

  1. Infrastructure Development

  2. Policy and Research

Emerging Outcomes

Over $100k Invested in Economic Democracy Focused Procurement Work

Through the efforts of several Mel King Fellows, the Bronx Cooperative Development Initiative (BCDI) has received over $100K in City Council discretionary funding from Council Speaker Johnson and the Brooklyn delegation. This funding will support efforts to localize significant procurement streams in Brooklyn and the Bronx in ways that build an equitable economy with local businesses.

Collaboration with the mayor's Office on a Citywide Economic Democracy Initiative

Deputy Mayor Phil Thompson joined the Fellows at their 3rd convening in Massachusetts as the group explored ways to build infrastructure for economic democracy in our communities. Recently, key members of Thompson's office, along with some of the Fellows visited the Evergreen Initiative in Cleveland, Ohio. As a result of all that work, key members of Thompson's office are interested in conceptualizing what a city-backed initiative that is centered around economic democracy can look like.  

Joint City-State Hearing on Economic Democracy

Finally, a precedent-setting Economic Democracy Hearing is in the works to highlight much of the local conversation that are happening around economic democracy across the city.  The hearing is anticipated to be this Fall and will shine a spotlight on all experiences and learnings that this fellowship has gone through to build and equitable economy for our communities.  

Policy and Research Sub-Group

The Policy and Research subgroup will focus on LBE and MWBE policy as well as existing government assets for the remainder of the Fellowship. By the end of the fellowship, this group will develop City-level LBE policy and co-produce a white paper on coordinating and expanding MWBE at the state and city level. Lastly, the fellows will draft a briefing on underutilized programs and assets at the city and state level that could be leveraged to advance economic democracy objectives. Other policy and research interests will be supported and connected to relevant resources.

Infrastructure Sub-Group

The Infrastructure Subgroup will focus on two areas for the Fellowship: first, understanding and advancing the steps to implement an advanced manufacturing hub in the Bronx and central Brooklyn. Second, developing a design framework for an advanced manufacturing hub that ensures community ownership and shared governance.