Reflections on the 2024 National Conference on the Black Cooperative Agenda

The 3rd Annual National Conference on the Black Cooperative Agenda was held June 13-15,2024 in Saint Paul, Minnesota. The conference was organized by the Network for Developing Conscious Communities (NDCC) and Nexus Community Partners with the theme Driving Economic Wealth: The Power of Black Cooperative Enterprises. While national in scope, the conference highlighted the growing employee ownership ecosystem in Saint Paul which has been bolstered by local government support. During his keynote speech Saint Paul Mayor Melvin Carter III shared his audacious goal of making Saint Paul “the co-op capital of the world.”

Earlier this year, the Saint Paul Office of Financial Empowerment and Nexus Community Partners established the $2.5 million LOCAL Fund to support employee ownership conversions, existing worker-owned businesses and real estate investment cooperatives. The city also established a full-time Shared Ownership Coordinator role in the Office of Financial Empowerment.

Project Equity is working with the City of Saint Paul’s Office of Financial Empowerment to identify opportunities to embed employee ownership in existing local government programs. I spoke about this work on a Friday morning panel titled “Policy Advocacy: Empowering Cooperative Growth, Sustainability, and Social Impact”. The panel discussion was an opportunity to share more about Project Equity’s public policy platform and local implementation in Saint Paul. In addition to completing a local policy audit, we’re raising awareness about succession planning and employee ownership with local business owners and creating a business landscape data study to illustrate the opportunity for employee ownership conversions in Saint Paul. We’ll share these findings during a day-long convening in October.

At the conference I met Carl Johnson, owner of Storehouse Grocers, a grocery store and coffee shop in East Saint Paul. Carl is in the process of converting his business to a worker-owned cooperative with support from the Shared Ownership Center. I also learned about Ignite Business Women Investment Group, a Black immigrant-led commercial real estate cooperative that purchased a mall with 18 storefronts last year in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota – a suburb of Minneapolis.

I met Black worker-owners, community organizers, and economic development leaders from Birmingham, Los Angeles, and Atlanta – three cities that are a part of Project Equity’s Black Employee Ownership Initiative. I left the conference inspired by the rich legacy of Black cooperation across the country and energized to continue to advance Black employee ownership as a community wealth-building strategy. Project Equity is excited to organize our first regional summit, the Saint Paul Shared Ownership Equity Summit, this October during National Co-op Month.

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