In a world where more and more people are buying their own equipment, there’s always the chance that they’re going to end up using it to run their own cooperative.
That’s exactly what happened to a group of young, creative people in California.
For a while, they were building a $100 million co-op out of reclaimed wood, donated by a local landfill.
When it finally closed, it cost just $20,000 to build.
But the group’s owners, the co-ops, had a plan: To buy the reclaimed wood and make a new business out of it.
The company is called the Cooperatives of America and it’s an ambitious project to make the wood available for reuse.
And while the plan might seem like a dreamy one for a group with no experience, it’s also a true vision of what’s possible for cooperatives in the 21st century.
“We’re building an infrastructure for a lot of people to have a real sense of ownership in their community,” co-founder and CEO Josh Lefkowitz said.
“This is a way to have some kind of connection to the land that we’re going in and to be able to make decisions with that connection.”
Lefksowitz is part of a growing group of co-owners who believe that cooperative ownership can bring more value to a community and its economy than traditional business models.
And when you think about how the U.S. economy has evolved in the past century, the notion of a self-sufficient business that operates independently of big corporations sounds promising.
“There’s a lot more freedom, there are a lot less constraints,” Lefsowitz said in a phone interview.
“You don’t have to be a government employee.
You don’t need a corporation to operate.
And there’s a whole world of possibilities to explore.”
The Cooperatives will have more than 1,200 members, with another 2,000 or so joining each month.
They are already operating more than 30 cooperative cooperatives throughout the United States.
The co-operatives have a focus on sustainability, but they also have an entrepreneurial spirit that they want to bring into the broader cooperative movement.
Cooperatives can also be a way for individuals to get back to the work they love.
The Cooperators of America, for example, is building an electric vehicle charging station at a factory in Northern Virginia, but it’s a part-time operation.
Lefzowitz said they’re looking to expand the company to include a variety of different types of businesses, including manufacturing and transportation, food processing, and construction.
“The way to really get a broader base of people involved is by allowing them to take ownership of their own businesses,” he said.
That would be an important move for a number of reasons, Lefskowitz said, including creating more job opportunities.
“Cooperatives will provide a bridge to employment for a whole bunch of people,” he added.
“It’ll also be an opportunity for people to be self-employed.
The ability to do that without having to sell a piece of property or something like that, or to be tied to a corporate structure or some other form of organization is going to be really exciting for a community that is so disconnected from the mainstream.”
Liefksowitz said that the Cooperators would like to get more than just people who have never set foot in a cooperative building one.
The cooperative has built a strong relationship with the people who live nearby.
For instance, they recently started hosting events for the neighborhood.
“If you go into the building, you will see that the community is a big part of it,” he explained.
The first event was in the neighborhood, and they decided to hold it in a public place because it’s such a popular location.
“I think a lot about how we’re trying to connect people to the community,” he continued.
“So it’s really important to show up to these events.”
The coop is planning to open its first co-operative meeting this spring, but Lefsky said it’s possible they’ll hold another one in a community somewhere in the future.
“People really care about the building and the people that live there,” he emphasized.
“And they want a space to feel like they belong.”
The project has been going on for about a year, but the team has been working on a number other projects.
One is the design of a restaurant.
The idea is to open a space that’s very much like a bar.
They’ve hired a chef to help with the cooking and serve their food.
The building has been remodeled and a bar is being built to serve drinks.
They’re also working on the creation of a new office, which is being converted into a small office for the company.
The rest of the team is working on an app for the app that will allow people to connect with the group online and make reservations for food.
Liefsowitz has been impressed