27 Jan Wild & Scenic Film Fest Workshop with Cal Solar
How Worker Cooperatives are the Model for a Sustainable Future
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Worker-owned cooperatives have proven to be beneficial for businesses and communities. Cal Solar, known as a company that is focused on the environmental and human condition, is the first of such co-ops in Nevada County.
Cal Solar General Manager Lars Ortegren and Operations Manager Angelica Niblock participated in a workshop on the worker cooperative model, presented as part of the Wild & Scenic Film Festival on Sunday January 19th, 1 to 2pm in the Activist Center, at the Nevada City City Hall.
“I think probably the biggest thing was introduction to worker co-ops as a model for transitioning businesses, for people who are either looking to sell their business or locking in the mission of their business that already exists,” Ortegren said. “This was a perfect fit for Wild & Scenic, because it addressed the structure of an environmental company, while focusing on the sustainability of our community”
Flying V Farm’s, Harvest Sales and Communications Manager Lucy O’dea, and Perennial and Maintenance Manager Cody Curtis were also on the panel. Flying V Farms is a worker-owned, certified organic farm in Placerville growing a variety of vegetables, fruits and flowers.
Project Equity’s Sr. Client Services Manager and Regional Partnerships Manager Patty Viáfara, was the panel’s moderator. Project Equity is a national nonprofit organization. “We work to catalyze employee ownership,” Viáfara said. “We work with over 30 companies at different stages. We have seen a great deal of success with our companies that have converted to the co-op model.”
“(For Cal Solar) it’s been great,” Ortegren said. “Especially with trying to run a small business in Nevada County in an every-changing environment, to have a group of people with the same mission allows us to be more adaptable.” Viáfara said these employees are receiving an increase in personal wealth. “And we’ve seen growing community wealth,” she said. “It keeps it in the community. It is ensuring business longevity and keeping local communities thriving.” Project Equity also addresses the silver tsunami. Baby boomers own about a half of the businesses. “There will be a huge wealth transfer in the next few years, starting now,” Viáfara said. Viáfara went on to say there are proven, seven-year old studies with co-ops that show they are more resilient to recession, and are building wealth for their owners.
There are also ancillary benefits.
“Creating employee owners is creating community advocates,” Viáfara said. “Owners are paying attention. They have a stake in what is happening in their community. They are going to city council meetings, they are aware of the pressure on businesses, they are more active in the community.”
Part of the work Project Equity does is a full underwriting. Including how a business performed in the past, potential in the future and market forces. The workshop included the process for converting to a worker-owned business and all its benefits. There was an audience Q&A after the workshop. “I think this is a great model. It’s about creating sustainable economies, to work where you live. I’m here to help people understand the model,” Viáfara said. “We are talking about worker co-ops as a model to create more economic and environmental sustainability in local communities,” Ortegren said.
When asked about forging ahead as the first Nevada County company to transition, Ortegren said, “Yes, we were blazing our own path. At the same time it was with a special group of people that I really trusted. We formalized something that was already happening in our company.”