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2022: Exploring Communal and Cooperative Investment Models for Lansing

Innovation Fellow - 2022

Authors: Tony Willis


The United Way, in collaboration with other philanthropic institutions, has created a new measure known as ALICE, which stands for “Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed”, and represents the growing number of households in our communities that are above the federal poverty limit but do not earn enough to cover all their monthly household necessities. Contributing to this issue is growing wealth gap between Black and White households. It is imperative that economic developers create and deploy new programs that can assist those who are most susceptible to financial misfortune and economic immobility. Equitable Economic Development unlocks the full potential of the local economy by dismantling barriers and expanding opportunities for low-income people and communities of color. Through accountable public action and investment, it grows quality jobs and increases entrepreneurship, ownership, and wealth. The result is a stronger, more competitive community. This Innovation Fellowship will focus on exploring communal and cooperative investment/business models, specifically worker-owner cooperatives and community investment trust, that could be deployed in the Lansing region to combat the economic instability that has become prevalent within the last decade. Both models provide pathways for increased income and asset acquisition that position owners/community members with a greater chance to grow wealth.  

Author Information

Tony Willis HeadshotAs the Chief Equity Development Officer for LEAP, Tony leads the organization in establishing and extending programs to support equitable economic development throughout the Lansing region. With the goal of creating a stronger, more competitive economy that works for all; Tony works to dismantle barriers and expand opportunities for low-income people, communities of color, and other underrepresented groups.

Tony is also the President of PROTO Accelerator, the region’s first corporate innovation platform and the only accelerator in the state of Michigan with a program focused on JnsurTech.

Tony is a proud Spartan, having earned a BA in Communications with specialization in PR from Michigan State University. Tony also attended Lansing Community College prior to transferring to Michigan State University.

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