A nationwide delegation of municipal leaders and worker-cooperative experts visited Boston in late March to learn about the city’s exploration of worker-owned companies as a strategy for fighting economic inequality.

Worker-owned companies are for-profit enterprises in which employees own a majority of the stock. Some worker-owned companies are also democratically run by the employees themselves; these are known as worker-cooperatives. The city’s research and planning around these business models were presented as part of an Equitable Economic Development Fellowship awarded to the City of Boston last June.

During the delegation’s visit, Boston’s fellows shared key outcomes of their work thus far:

  • A new workshop series, hosted by the City’s Office of Small Business Development (OSBD), to provide the public with information on cooperative business structures
  • On-site technical assistance for businesses interested in converting to worker-owned companies, provided by OSBD through Local Enterprise Assistance Fund (LEAF) and the Boston Center for Community Ownership (BCCO)
  • Ongoing research into the feasibility of using city contracting to promote worker-owned companies
  • A new advisory council to follow up on the city’s initial research into worker-owned companies

Additionally, the Mayor’s Office of Workforce Development (OWD) is looking into the potential for partnering with worker-owned companies on workforce training programs.

As part of their three-day visit, delegates visited Harpoon, an example of a well-known worker-owned company. The beer-producer became worker-owned in August 2014 when the existing shareholder group sold roughly half of its shares to an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP). On their tour, the visitors saw the company’s “Ideas Wall,” an embodiment of its worker input and ownership. The wall is covered with photos of employees who have submitted successfully implemented idea to improve operations.

At the conclusion of the three-day visit, experts in worker-owned business models provided feedback on Boston’s efforts thus far. Among their recommendations was that the city focus on ways to help existing businesses convert to employee-owned models.

The City of Boston is one of six cities that have been awarded an Equitable Economic Development Fellowship, which is designed to promote equity, transparency, sustainability, and community engagement as core values in economic development. Boston’s team of three fellows – which includes Joyce Linehan, the Mayor’s Chief of Policy; OWD Director Trinh Nguyen; and John Smith, Policy Analyst at the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development – chose worker-owned companies as their area of focus. The fellowship is run by the National League of Cities, PolicyLink, and the Urban Land Institute.

For more information on the fellows’ work, please contact Jason Ewas, Mayor’s Office Policy Research Fellow, at jason.ewas@boston.gov.

woman operates machinery for group
Shamaiah Turner, a graduate of YOU Boston’s Operation Exit program, demonstrates sheet metal equipment for visitors from the National League of Cities and other organizations.