Around 2015, the City of Rochester awarded a grant to Hart’s Grocery for $75,000. That is a lot of money and it could have helped multiple other local businesses. Fast forward to March 2019. Hart’s Grocery announces that it is closing. This announcement is posted by dozens on social media. Many people comment that it is a shame, but there are also comments about how the business was run (poorly), how expensive things were in the store (very), and how poorly workers there were treated (very poorly).
Just out of curiosity, I took a quick look to see if the main driver behind Hart’s Grocery, Glenn Kellogg, had made any political contributions over the last few years. He had, but it was a relatively nominal amount to three candidates, one of them was on City Council in 2013, but the other two were candidates who ended up losing their elections. But if you look down just a few lines on the picture below, his wife, Jennifer, made a $1000 contribution to Mayor Warren in 2014. Hello!
Rochester is not unique in the way it encourages economic development. We, like other municipalities, continue to focus on big businesses to “save” us – an economic concept that has not worked in decades. Even when the business is locally-owned, we throw huge amounts of cash at a few endeavors and then when they fail, and Hart’s Grocery was doomed to fail, we lose our tax dollars as well as services we need. And all of this for political contributions.
Along with my call to ban political contributors from doing business with the City, we must shift more of our public economic development resources to the creation of worker-owned businesses, the kind that are run democratically by the workers.
In 2013, I was among a number of Greens who ran for local office. Our biggest issue was the transformation to a more democratic, local economy. While none of the Green candidates won that year, our focus on co-operative economics spurred the City’s creation of Own Rochester, a local non-profit whose mission is to foster the growth of worker-owned businesses. Own Rochester is too small. It needs more resources to help train more groups of people to start businesses and convert already established companies into democratically-run ones.
Such businesses that should be encouraged would be ones that focus on the daily needs of our community: food, clothing, shelter, health care, day care, etc.