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Florida Co-Op training organization sees potential in St. Pete youth-owned businesses

Andrea Perez

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The audience listens to Jonathan Rodriguez (center) who serves as managing director and Youth Co-op developer of Florida CEED. (Photo: Andrea Perez)

“I know that all of you want to earn money and not only work, right?” asked Jonathan Rodriguez, a cooperative business developer, to a crowd of children, teenagers, and adults who were listening attentively and taking notes at the Enoch Davis Center on Thursday.

“Think about a service that needs to be provided here in South St. Pete. That could be turned into a business,” he added. A young mother raised her hand and said, “Early childcare services maybe. I know many young single mothers trying to go to school, but can’t because they have to care for their young children.”

The crowd was receptive as Rodriguez discussed the process of coming up with a co-op, a business owned and operated by the people who use and create its services.

Rodriguez works with Florida Cooperative Empowered Economic Development (CEED), a nonprofit that operates as a business development resource center by providing education, training and technical assistance.

His recent move from Puerto Rico to Florida, after Hurricane María, offered him the opportunity to meet CEED’s Executive Director Judith Turner, and work alongside her to empower children to think about startups to develop in their own communities.

“Successful youth-owned business are possible,” Rodriguez said. “You just need to identify a real need in your community, show a committed interest to the cause and analyze the economic potential.”

Rodriguez, who served as administrator for the Cooperative Development Commission in Puerto Rico, explained that there is potential for the growth of cooperative businesses in South St. Petersburg. “This is a really progressive city. The area has a great timing to work with. The city is receptive. The people are receptive. Everyone’s waiting to work.”

According to the latest People’s Budget Review survey poll, an initiative launched by residents and various organizations that monitor city spending, cooperative businesses development should receive more funding. CEED saw this as an opportunity to help launch its most recent food initiative.

Turner, who serves as one of the founding members of One Community Grocery Co-op, helped in the creation of St. Petersburg’s first cooperatively-owned grocery store. The co-op is currently in the process of building memberships and hopes to enroll 300 members.

The career business owner is also overlooking a current item on the city council agenda that requests a presentation to the Budget, Finance, and Taxation (BFT) Committee on the potential of cooperative business development.

For Turner, cooperatives are mainstream businesses that make an impact on everyone, especially young children. She’s determined to educate as many local communities as she can about the benefits and long-term economic potential that co-ops can bring.

“There is a lack of understanding of what they are, so we do a lot of education such as this event that Greenhouse planned and we sponsored,” Turner said.

Turner, who’s been attending The Greenhouse – the city’s business assistance center for more than 20 years – explained that after children are taught fundamental skills like gardening, another opportunity can grow out of that process.

“Kids are taught how to grow plants, act and perform but what they don’t know is how to make money with it,” she added. “So this really helps them bring an understanding of how to bring business in. And if they do it all together, it’s more likely to succeed. These trainings demystify the business.”

CEED currently offers micro-courses that cover topics from legal definitions of cooperatives to state statutes and IRS accounting rules, followed by workshops to help teams develop their business models. The organization also gives updates on One Community’s Grocery Co-op project.

“Next quarter we’re going to teach steps to starting a housing co-op corporation to target housing poverty,” said Turner. “We keep changing the topics to show the value.”

To learn more about CEED, visit www.floridaceed.org or call (727)418-6121. They have offices located at Pinellas Technical College, 901 34th St. S, St. Petersburg Fla., 33755.

 

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