Emilia Romagna is a diverse group of 8,000 cooperatives and family owned businesses that collaborate with each other in the Emilia Romagna region of Northern Italy. Their collaboration enables groups of small companies to jointly compete for large jobs that none of them could do alone. Their collaboration is aided by regional government supported business resource centers.

“Emilia Romagna came out of World War II as perhaps the most devastated region in Italy. Its strong cooperative and labor movements had been decimated by 25 years of Mussolini’s fascism that suppressed all independent organizations and jailed many co-op and union leader. Emilia Romagna ended up just behind the Nazi’s Gothic Line in 1943-45. It became the focus for Allied bombing, guerrilla warfare by the Resistance and Nazi reprisals against the civilian population. It emerged from the war impoverished with heavy unemployment.” John Logue,  Economics, Cooperation and Employee Ownership, the Emilia Romagna Model  http://dept.kent.edu/oeoc/oeoclibrary/emiliaromagnalong.htm

“The left-wing government in Emilia Romagna embarked on a strategy of promoting small business for economic development. It encouraged employee ownership, consumer cooperatives, and agricultural cooperatives, and it encouraged the development of cooperative institutions for all small businesses – co-ops and family owned firms alike.”John Logue,  Economics, Cooperation and Employee Ownership, the Emilia Romagna Model  http://dept.kent.edu/oeoc/oeoclibrary/emiliaromagnalong.htm

“The regional government’s economic development agency ERVET, created publicly funded small business ‘industrial sector service centers’ that have supported small business clustering in the region. They provide shared services in research and development, purchasing, education and training, workplace safety, technology transfer, marketing and distribution, exporting and more for scores or hundreds of small businesses in industrial sectors like ceramics, textiles, footwear, construction and agricultural machinery. These service centers combine the economies of scale with the advantages and flexibility of small business. They have supported the so called “flexible manufacturing” of the region in which small businesses in the same industry collaborate on joint bids for major contracts.” John Logue,  Economics, Cooperation and Employee Ownership, the Emilia Romagna Model  http://dept.kent.edu/oeoc/oeoclibrary/emiliaromagnalong.htm

Major firms supplied by these networks include Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati and Ducati. John Logue,  Economics, Cooperation and Employee Ownership, the Emilia Romagna Model  http://dept.kent.edu/oeoc/oeoclibrary/emiliaromagnalong.htm

Italy has a long cooperative history, and a number of laws that benefit co-ops including tax deductions for the funds they retain in collective reserves, and a requirement that co-ops contribute 3% percent of their annual profits to a co-op development fund run by one of the various co-op federations. John Logue,  Economics, Cooperation and Employee Ownership, the Emilia Romagna Model  http://dept.kent.edu/oeoc/oeoclibrary/emiliaromagnalong.htm

Unlike Mondragon – in Emilia Romagna multiple company types collaborate, including:

  • Family owned
  • Owned by communist cooperatives
  • Owned by Catholic cooperative
  • Owned by social democratic cooperatives
  • Some cooperatives own publicly traded companies

Co-op federations include all sectors: workers, consumers, agricultural, and housing. Most companies are unionized. Coopitalia is a consumer co-op that is Italy’s largest retailer, comprised of 169 local retail co-ops and 4 million consumer members, though highly decentralized & democratic. Wal-Mart avoids Italy due to competition from Coopitalia.