What is a Cooperative?

In honor of National Cooperative Month, today I’m writing about Co-ops.  Growing up in the midwest, my family used Grain Co-ops and Fuel Co-ops, but didn’t really know what “Co-op” meant.  Then in college, I started to hear about Housing and Food Co-ops (they always made the best organic sandwiches).  But now, working at a Cooperative, the term has taken on a whole new meaning for me.

Webster says:

co·op·er·a·tive  [ kō óppərətiv ]  ADJECTIVE 
working together: acting together with others, or done by people working or acting together. “a cooperative effort”
co·op·er·a·tive  [ kō óppərətiv ]  NOUN 
business owned by workers: a business that is jointly owned by the people who run it, with all profits shared equally.  “a workers’ cooperative”

I’ve come to think of a Cooperative as a community-based business ran by it’s member/customers for it’s member/customers.

If you like Democracy, you’ll love Cooperatives! 

Not only is a Cooperative’s leadership chosen by its customers, but its leadership is its customers.  And all customers are members.  That means everyone who uses the products or services of a cooperative has a voice in how that cooperative runs, how it spends its money, what it charges, and how it grows.

photo courtesy www.go.coopThat’s a pretty sweet deal, considering 1 in 3 Americans is a member of a Cooperative of some kind.

Basically, Cooperatives exist for the benefit of their members. Many co-ops also support other parts of the community through various programs and philanthropic activities as part of their commitment to…

The 7 Cooperative Values & Principles:

  • Voluntary and open membership – This isn’t communist China.  Come and go as you like!
  • Democratic member control – Equal say.  By the members, for the members.
  • Member economic participation – Everyone buys in and everyone gets paid out.
  • Autonomy and independence – Cooperatives shouldn’t be beholden to anybody, whether government or another business.
  • Education, training and information – Co-ops support education of youth and the community, and they make communication with members a top priority.
  • Cooperation among cooperatives – Working together with other Cooperatives.
  • Concern for community – Cooperatives work for the sustainable development of their communities through donations, sponsorships, and active participation in community development.

In Cordova, we have two Cooperatives:  Cordova Telephone Cooperative (CTC) and Cordova Electric Cooperative (CEC).  Each donates an abundance of funds and energy toward making Cordova better.  Let’s thank our Cooperatives this month!  Oops, too late!  They’re thanking us!

Stop by CTC for Cookie Friday every day this month for fresh, homemade cookies and enter to win one of five $50 local gift certificates awarded each week!

Drop into CEC any day this month and get a free CFL lightbulb and enter yourself to win the $250 gift certificate they’re giving away each week toward an energy-saving appliance!

Here are a few fun Co-op facts, courtesy of www.go.coop.

Facts:

  • There are more than 29,000 co-ops in the United States with Americans holding 350 million co-op memberships.
  • U.S. co-ops provide over 850 thousand jobs and create more than $74 billion in annual wages with revenue of nearly $500 billion.
  • The majority of our country’s 2 million farmers are members of the nearly 3,000 farmer-owned cooperatives. They provide over 250 thousand jobs and annual wages of over $8 billion.
  • Over 8,300 credit unions provide financial services to nearly 100 million members.
  • More than 900 rural electric co-ops deliver electricity to more than 42 million people in 47 states. This makes up 42% of the nation’s electric distribution lines and covers 75% of our country’s land mass.
  • Approximately 233 million people are served by insurance companies owned by or closely affiliated with co-ops.
  • Food co-ops have been innovators in the areas of unit pricing, consumer protection, organic and bulk foods, and nutritional labeling.
  • More than 50,000 families in the U.S. use cooperative day care centers, giving co-ops a crucial role in the care of our children.
  • About 1.2 million rural Americans in 31 states are served by the 260 telephone cooperatives.
  • More than 6,400 housing cooperatives exist in the U.S., providing 1.5 million homes.
  • How do co-ops impact the economy? Check out the University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives’ research on the Economic Impact of U.S. Cooperatives and the Hoffer Report (summary) to see the impact co-ops have in Northwestern New England.

Cooperatives are good for the community and for the economy! 

Cordova Telephone Cooperative alone provides 17 full-time year-round benefitted jobs in this small community and, along with its subsidaries, brings over $7 million of outside money INTO Cordova every year.  That funding helps this community grow.  In addition, they donate a lot to Cordova community organizations.  For example, CTC donated more than $10,000 to Cordova schools and youth sports last year alone.

But these Cooperatives need our support to keep functioning.  Without people buying their services, like any other business, a cooperative will go under.

So, if you’re a member of a Co-op, good for you!  Keep supporting your local Cooperative and don’t be afraid to let your voice be heard.  You’re an owner/member!

And if you’re not a member of a Co-op yet, maybe you should join one.  You’re paying for things like electricity, phone service, and internet already.  Why not put your money toward a company that supports your community in EVERYTHING it does?

Plus, members of Cooperatives get Patronage Capital Credits (that’s basically free money – your percentage of the company’s profits).  You can’t get much better than that!

For more info on Cooperatives, visit www.go.coop

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