Reduce Waste – Add Value – Capture and Share the Benefit of Both Locally – Repeat
For more than 30 years, COWS has promoted, tested, and demonstrated the attractiveness of “high road” development in places. This development strategy assumes both competitive markets and popular interest in social equity and fairness, environmental sustainability, and competent democratic government. It then, iteratively, uses better democratic organization, inside and outside the state, to reduce waste, add value, and capture and share, locally, the net increase in social value. Competent and capable democratic organization is essential to each step of this process, and the broadly productive democracy it may power. Democracy here is understood as a factor of production, it is essential not only to fairness and popular sovereignty, but social wealth creation. Our “natural capital” of environmental services is understood as another factor.
When we started COWS, this view that social equity, environmental sustainability, and popular accountability are necessary complements in long run development, and compatible with market competition, was heretic. It lacked commonly accepted economic and other behavioral foundations. Now, in part because of our work, it is very widely accepted, at least in theory.
Practice, or course, is another matter. And that’s another area of COWS impact.
"The future of America is the future of our cities. Restoring their health and wealth is the key to advancing racial justice, to raising and equalizing wages, to promoting equal opportunity, to saving our environment....I urge you to read and consider Metro Futures."The Reverend Jesse L. Jackson, Sr., from the Foreword
An Economy that Works for All
Building a high road economy means rooting out the systemic inequities that have consistently hurt marginalized communities, in particular women and people of color.
COWS’ first truly public project, the Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership (WRTP) (1994) has become a national model for sensible local industrial policy. Worker centered, community focused, and industry driven, the WRTP demonstrates a high-road approach that makes jobs more secure, provides community access to high wage jobs, and responds directly to industry needs.
This project continues to impact training partnerships across the country, as COWS has advised and supported partnerships and state policy leaders across the nation including in Wisconsin, California, New York, and Pennsylvania.
Partnerships also make equity in good jobs possible. The Milwaukee Jobs Initiative (1997) and Equity in Apprenticeship (2018) show how to extend opportunity to workers – often women and people of color – who have been too often excluded in the past.
"The country can take a page from the Badger State’s book. It includes creating more manufacturing jobs, training more Americans with the skills to fill those jobs, and making sure the hard work pays off with good wages."President Obama, 2014
Building the high road also means reimagining a transportation system that promotes equitable economic development and environmental sustainability. Our State Smart Transportation Initiative provides research, technical assistance, and information-sharing for transportation officials and the communities they serve. Our work in this space has contributed to:
- The reduction of (and in some cases, the cancellation of) many wasteful, environmentally damaging highway projects, including the so-called NAFTA Highway.
- The adoption of an accessibility performance measure designed to inform project funding and support multimodal transportation options for projects large and small.
- The development of a new approach to assessing and responding to land use-driven transportation impacts by focusing on transportation demand management (TDM) to make traffic reduction the priority. Reducing barriers imposed on infill development in order to create a more compact and accessible downtown.
The Roots of the Green New Deal
We have been on the front line of energy policy since our inception, identifying the most effective financing mechanisms and governance structures to not only satisfy energy demand in greener ways, but to share the benefits of doing so more equitably.
COWS helped found the Apollo Alliance (1997), to which the Green New Deal can trace its roots.
The nationally recognized Green Jobs series (Greener Pathways, 2008; Greener Skills, 2010; Greener Reality, 2012) established and defined the concept of green jobs, recognizing the enormous opportunity to integrate this concept into the current job landscape.
Co-founded by COWS, the Emerald Cities Collaborative is developing energy, green infrastructure and other sustainable development projects that not only contribute to the resilience of our metropolitan regions but also ensure an equity stake for low-income communities of color in the green economy.
Progressive State and Local Policy
In 2003, COWS designed and founded the American Legislative and Issue Campaign (ALICE), which became the State Innovation Exchange (SiX) in 2010. SiX is an independent national resource and strategy center that collaborates with state legislators and provides legislative coordination across states.
Co-founded by COWS, the Economic Analysis and Research Network (1997) coalesces research, policy, and public engagement organizations in order to fight state by state, for an economy that works for everyone.
In 2020, COWS initiated, with EARN and others, ProGov21, a curated, regularly updated, and fully searchable digital library, sorted by substantive area of more than 1500 recommended high-road laws and practices.