Across the United States, democratic, community wealth-building institutions have begun to multiply dramatically in number in recent years. Although many ventures are small in size, a number have already become a major presence in their communities and have implications for longer-term community change. The various efforts differ from traditional corporations, on the one hand, and small individually-owned businesses, on the other. For example:
community development corporations have grown from a mere handful in the late 1960s to around 4,000 today;
there are also now more than 11,000 employee-owned firms (ESOPs), which employ more people than workers in America's private sector labor unions;
cooperatively-owned businesses involve more than 100 million members nationwide;
nonprofit organizations have increasingly begun to initiate profit-making business enterprises to support their public service missions;
in one of the fastest-growing and most interesting innovations, a host of local municipal enterprises that help anchor jobs and contribute to the tax base have gained the support of Republican and Democratic mayors alike.
These seemingly diverse institutional strategies share certain key principles. First, they change the nature of asset and wealth ownership in a manner which serves the community. Second, they offer new ways to provide and anchor local jobs and to finance community services.
These developments are not occurring in a vacuum. They are being spurred by two converging trends with historic importance:
the steadily increasing insecurities of the global economic era–which, in turn, are generating a demand for new approaches to local economic instability; and
the dramatic and rapidly expanding fiscal crisis at all levels of government–which is systematically forcing consideration of new alternatives that promise new ways to achieve service-supporting revenues.
In short, as many matters of vital interest further devolve to local and state authorities, Americans have begun building institutions that make their communities more stable and economically viable, offer a greater sense of security, further the goal of equality, and strengthen democratic practice and participation.
Few Americans are aware of this steady and continuing build-up of new and alternative forms of economic activity through the United States over the past several decades. The range of practical activity – and its implications for the future – has rarely been appreciated even by practitioners and experts working on such matters. Specialists in one sector (community development corporations, for instance) often have little knowledge of other sectors (such as employee-ownership or municipal enterprise). This “silo” effect prevents the transfer of experience and knowledge between sectors and works against collaboration. It also diminishes the potential that these important developments can be understood in a broader context as representing a new, more democratic vision of community-building in general.
Community-Wealth.org brings together, for the first time, information about the broad range of community wealth strategies, policies, models, and innovations. The site is built upon the proposition that above all, practitioners, policy makers, academics and the media need solid, cross-cutting information and tools that can help them to understand and support the expansion of these institutions. Across-the-board information, experience, and expertise can also contribute to creating a favorable policy environment in which community wealth approaches are more fully legitimized, recognized, and appreciated as meaningful to the revitalization of our communities.
The primary goals of C-W.org are to:
facilitate conversation, connection, and collaboration among those now working in “silos” within this field, and to encourage the support and participation of new constituencies who have not been formally involved in democratic, common asset, wealth-building programs;
broaden and deepen information available about the field (including the numbers of institutions; their economic value; actual and projected growth; their contributions to democratic practice; innovative cross-sectoral partnerships; and best practices and policies) which can further contribute to comparative analysis and actions that can support greater expansion and effectiveness across sectors;
illuminate and bring attention to the vast range of experiments and help paint a compelling picture of how neighborhoods and communities—particularly low-income communities and groups—can address the economic challenges they are facing using an asset-based, community wealth approach; and
help lay the groundwork for changes in policies more supportive of community wealth-building programs.