A Model Community Partnership for the PUF Development

Worker-owned Upholstery Shop Brings Jobs to Poor Neighborhood

by Paul Tuthill

I heard this piece on WAMC Northeast Public Radio yesterday and thought immediately of the parallels with the Poughkeepsie Underwear Factory (aka the PUF) and its future role as a hub in the city of Poughkeepsie, supporting the community through commercial enterprise and a sustainable living model of rental housing. 
The report tells of a recently started worker-owned cooperative propelled by a major community partnership located in Springfield, MA.
As is in the works for the commercial part of the re-developing PUF, there are new businesses forming inside a century old factory building and one of the first was an upholstery shop on the third floor (upholstery…underwear- the similarities are significant). Some of the area’s largest local employers such as hospitals and universities, nonprofits and government agencies comprise this unique collaboration responsible for the network of cooperatives is called Wellspring collaborative. The author goes on to say how after the economic crisis people remain disheartened by and distrusting of the standard economic model and are instead looking at other viable ways to provide jobs and sustain a strong local economy. Enter think the plan’s most salient feature plan-- the linking of the demand for goods and services by these large employers with output from the soon-to-be-developing worker-owned ventures.
The premise is simple and the process promising; it could be replicated in many struggling urban centers with larger industries dotting the periphery towns that generally provides jobs to the largest number of suburban residents- predominantly middle class and relatively well-off. Certainly an idea worth exploring in Poughkeepsie since it has the same structure of its city-suburbs and the area’s largest employers are here as well colleges and healthcare facilities, and also IBM.

The co-director of the Wellspring Collaborative, Fred Rose, explains the take away message, “that profit-sharing piece is critical to helping people move out of poverty and into the middle class.” It’s about identifying needs within the greater communities that could be met with work performed and goods produced locally- a brilliant scenario that provides jobs and skills training to the largely unemployed and increasingly marginalized inner-city residents.

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