Co-op Cincy receives major grant to prepare ‘green economy’ workforce

Co-op Cincy received nearly $500,000 in federal grant funding to design strategies for getting Greater Cincinnati residents trained to take advantage of high-playing clean energy and sustainable construction jobs the country expects to need in the future.

The 18-month planning grant is part of $16 million awarded by the U.S. Department of Labor to support the professional development of workers so they can prepare for careers in the budding green economy.

Originally known as the Cincinnati Union Cooperative Initiative, Co-op Cincy supports worker-owned businesses through start-up training, coaching, loan access and a program to help business owners sell to their workers. 

“We’re so honored and excited for this opportunity to drive equitable economic growth, creating an economy that works for all,” said Ellen Vera, co-director of Co-op Cincy. “Our goal is to empower workers and build community wealth as we transition to a more sustainable economy.”

The Sustainergy team works on a job site using sustainable construction methods.

Through the grant program, the Department of Labor aims to “enable recipients to create and expand partnerships to develop training programs to provide the workforce needed in high-demand industries,” according to Brent Parton, the agency’s principal deputy assistant secretary for employment and training.

The most recent U.S. Census showed that nearly 25% of Cincinnatians live in poverty. Six out of Ohio’s 10 most common jobs pay too little to support a family of three, per data from the organization Policy Matters Ohio.

Co-op Cincy — which emphasizes creating job opportunities for those from historically marginalized communities — plans to use its influx of $495,816 to develop practical approaches for improving job quality and the availability of good jobs and worker influence, particularly in the climate resiliency sector. Some of the money will go toward training.

Ellen Vera is co-director of Cincy Co-op.
Ellen Vera

Vera noted that The Department of Labor funding will not only help Cincinnati tackle wealth inequality, it will also benefit the region as it and the rest of the country transition to the so-called “green economy.”

The green economy concept seeks to reduce environmental and ecological risks of climate change, while supporting sustainable development.

Co-op Cincy envision dramatic job growth in clean energy and sustainable construction as the country begins to experience the impact of climate change. Vera pointed to programs such as the Environmental Defense Funds Climate Corps training program as an example.

Vera referenced Sustainergy, a residential energy efficiency and solar power business, as evidence of how to combine sustainable construction and good jobs. It’s one of 15 worker-owned businesses in Co-op Cincy’s network, which range from an urban farm to a child care center. 

As part of its efforts, Co-op Cincy plans to form a coalition of partners including local businesses, government entities, labor groups, nonprofits and educational institutions, Vera added. 

“This is a historic opportunity to build community wealth while responding to the climate crisis,” Vera added. “We have to be very intentional about how we meet this moment.”