Street scene in Reading
Concept means employees have stake in success of companies
By David Mekeel
Oct 27, 2012 – With poverty high in Reading, city officials are willing to try just about anything to create decent-paying jobs.
Friday afternoon, they heard a pitch for an idea that has worked elsewhere and might be just right in Reading.
Seattle-based filmmakers Melissa Young and Mark Dworkin, in town for the Berks Arts Council’s seventh annual Greater Reading Film Festival, were the featured guests at a lunchtime roundtable session focused on employee-owned businesses.
Young and Dworkin have created a documentary on the subject titled, "Shift Change: Putting Democracy to Work," which will be screened during the festival.
The film, and Friday’s discussion, centered around the concept of community-first businesses, in which employees have a real stake in the company.
"If the business does well, they do well," Dworkin said. "There’s an incentive to work hard, not to shirk off."
Employee-owned businesses can take many forms, Dworkin and Young said.
Some have no management structure at all, with decisions being made by consensus. Others have professional management, with an elected board of employees overseeing their decisions.
But in every case, the employees have a voice in how things operate.
"The bottom line is, it’s democratic," Dworkin said.
Young said businesses also can be diverse in how they’re created, ranging from startups by entrepreneurs to restructuring of a current business to efforts by a local foundation, nonprofit or government entity.
Reading officials and community members who took part in the discussion seemed receptive to the idea, saying that the city needs to look at all its options.
"We’re trying every possible innovation for development," said Eron Lloyd, special assistant to the mayor.
Mayor Vaughn D. Spencer said finding a way to establish well-paying, steady jobs in Reading is one of his biggest priorities.
"It’s no secret that when I ran for mayor I wanted to address economic development and job creation," he said.
Businesses that are owned by local employees who work there, he said, could offer just those types of jobs.
The next step in creating those jobs, those in attendance agreed, would be to form some sort of committee or foundation that would offer education on how to create and manage employee-owned businesses.
"It does take training to make a business like that work," Young said.
Contact David Mekeel: 610-371-5014 or firstname.lastname@example.org.