The COVID-19 crisis has revealed the brittle, distressed state of our local economies and local public sector, following decades of underinvestment and neglect. At the same time, this dual public health and economic emergency has underscored the centrality of community to our everyday lives.
Our communities have been on the front line of the emergency response to the pandemic. They should also be the principal beneficiaries and recipients of any government stimulus that follows and the period of recovery and economic reconstruction that will be necessary. We must work to ensure that the response to the crisis ushers in a new era of community wealth building—the creation of democratic, inclusive and locally rooted economies centered on collective well-being, local resilience, ecological sustainability, and economic justice.
Community wealth building stands ready to offer real solutions for communities recovering from the COVID-19 crisis. However, it also must respond with new tools and instruments to help local economies navigate new realities and make sense of emerging possibilities.
For example, the imminent collapse of such major economic sectors as hospitality and aviation calls for an urgent application of community wealth building principles to the national and local industrial response. Similarly, this new moment calls for a renewed focus on knitting together and harnessing the power of the expanding web of community-based, autonomous mutual-aid and self-help organizations. Also, the power of the democratic local state must now be framed by new municipalist ideas and structures, with an emboldened public sector that advances new forms of municipal and community ownership and power, including within the commercial economy.
In the face of all this, community wealth building policy and practice must shift radically to meet the scale of the crisis, building from the ground up an institutional power base for a new politics of community control We must explore strategies for employee ownership conversions in order to preserve our Main Street local enterprises in the face of a potential wave of business closures and a predatory private equity acquisition spree. An updated anchor mission must reflect new demands to minimize harm and maximize benefits to local economies and make putting them back on track central to the recovery.
At its root, community wealth building offers a means to institute fundamental economic change at the local level. In the wake of COVID-19, with the whole economy experiencing unprecedented economic devastation, community wealth building approaches are needed more than ever.