The Cooperative Form: A Tool to Empower Immigrant Entrepreneurs and their Communities

by Mike Lam

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According to the American Community Survey, the U.S. immigrant population stood at more than 43.3 million, or 13.5 percent, of the total U.S. population in 2015.[1] Over forty percent of immigrants in the U.S. live in or are near living in poverty.[2] In addition to facing an amalgam of legal, social, and economic barriers, immigrant entrepreneurs must also resolve the complex racial, wealth and income inequalities prevalent across the nation.

During my 1L summer at a law firm in Minneapolis, I learned how the cooperative legal form empowered capable, hard-working, and entrepreneurial immigrants to create jobs within the community. A cooperative is a type of corporation formed under state statutes.[3] Cooperatives are distinct legal entities from their owners.[4] Cooperatives can be difficult to distinguish from other types of corporations because many features, such as fiduciary duties, limited liability, and boards of directors, exist in cooperatives as well. The key distinguishing feature, however, is that members and users of the cooperatives services own and control the business.[5] The Mercado Central market, a thriving marketplace of thirty-five businesses that aims to foster business development for Latinos, used the cooperative structure as a tool to create businesses, jobs, and a sustainable marketplace for the benefit of the community and its members.[6]

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