From jobless to board of trustees: ‘The Cleveland Model’

Growing up, graduating high school and going to church in Cleveland’s Glenville neighborhood gives Tim Coleman strong community roots. When a new business moved in to this underdeveloped community, the 54-year-old native decided to apply.

Since 2009, the Glenville-based business – Evergreen Laundry Cooperative – has provided jobs to Clevelanders from all walks of life, with a focus on hiring the long-term unemployed and ending cycles of poverty.

Thanks to his job as a truck driver to and from the nursing homes, hospitals and hotels the laundry co-op serves, Coleman has become a first-time homeowner and provided his family with a steady income. Before Evergreen opened its doors, he had been out of work for more than a year. Now, he sits on Evergreen’s board of trustees.

As a co-op, employees can become part owners in the company and share in its profits. “It’s more than just a job,” says Coleman. “Your name is on that company. It may be 1 percent, but we have a piece of it. That means a lot.”

Tim Coleman

General manager Claudia Oates has seen Coleman’s transformation. “He’s had a difficult background, but he managed to put himself in a different situation and make retirement goals,” she says.

Last year was the first time the laundry service made a profit, which were distributed to employee owners. A portion of the profits go into retirement funds.

“In the first five years, we were losing money, and a lot of grants kept us open,” says Coleman. “Older employees put in volunteer time to keep the doors open, but we stuck with it and now see a profit.”

Glenville is part of Greater University Circle on Cleveland’s east side. Major institutions in the area, such as Cleveland Clinic and Case Western Reserve University, invested in start-up costs so that the laundry service could thrive. They see economic growth in its surrounding neighborhoods, which have high poverty rates, as good for business and the community as a whole.

Another benefit to joining Evergreen’s team is the housing program. Glenville homes are renovated and purchased by employees without a down payment. The monthly mortgage comes out of their paychecks. In five years, employees will pay the full price of the home. The Cleveland Housing Authority and property tax forgiveness from Cuyahoga County helped make it possible.

“Glenville has a lot of abandoned houses that are fixed up and helping the neighborhood,” says Coleman of the program.

Evergreen also focuses on eco-friendly practices, becoming the region’s first LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold commercial laundry facility.

With a business design created in part by the Democracy Collaborative, which has a Cleveland office, Evergreen’s success is being called “The Cleveland Model” and studied for implementation in various locations, including Milwaukee; Jacksonville, Florida; and the United Kingdom. The model is about community wealth-building to keep capital within the area and in residents’ hands.

Along with laundry, Evergreen Cooperatives operates Green City Growers, which offers fresh produce to local food servers, and Evergreen Energy Solutions, an environmentally conscious energy service.

“It gave us an opportunity to help our neighborhood and help ourselves,” says Coleman. “We could have folded but we stayed and worked. We know we’re helping other people get employed as well. It’s a blessing to know that you helped make it happen.”

Photo credit: Democracy Collaborative

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