A reason to celebrate co-ops and National Co-op Month
by Alexandra M. Newbern
“We learn from each other,” said Bob Johnson, manager of Midwest Co-ops Inc. “Co-ops are a chance to work together for mutual benefit … We are able to pool our buying power. Together we can buy more than if we worked alone … that is especially important in times when the economy is down.”
Midwest Co-ops Inc. began in 1962 when a group of farmers came together to create a cooperative owned and directed by farmers. Today, the co-op consists of more than 1,400 members throughout the Midwest.
Johnson is not alone in celebrating the co-op business model. The United States currently has more than 29,000 businesses classified as co-ops and Illinois has about 700 cooperative businesses.
Electric cooperatives join the celebration of organizations following the cooperative business model in October when all co-ops celebrate National Cooperative Month.
The 2010 theme for National Cooperative Month is “Local. Trusted. Serving You.” The theme was chosen based on words to which the cooperatives thought consumers could relate. It is also based on the seven principles of cooperative businesses – open and voluntary membership; democratic member control; members’ economic participation; autonomy and independence; education, training and information; cooperation among cooperatives and concern for community.
According to Johnson, there are more advantages to being in the co-op than simply pooling resources and sharing ideas. “Midwest Co-ops Inc. brings structure to the businesses of farmers who are members. Members can benefit on the costs of feed for their animals because we
are able to buy in bulk. Members also benefit because we are able to contract nutritionists that help to properly ration the feed for their farm animals.” Johnson continued, “We’re very simple … We’re probably as close to a true cooperative as you can get.”
Cindy Keyes, manager of the ABS Water Cooperative near Quincy, agrees co-ops offer services and values not found in all other business models. She said, “In my experience, people are more loyal to co-ops because it’s member owned. They are part of it.”
Carissa Heckathorn, manager of member services and marketing of National Cooperative Month, expressed the importance of the month, “Co-ops are not well recognized. Our objective is to make consumers more aware of cooperatives, the benefits of cooperatives and their values … it is a way for us to all come together and to increase co-op membership.”
Duane Noland, CEO of the Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives, mirrored Heckathorn’s remarks. He said, “Cooperatives are a living testament to what can happen when people bond together for a unified purpose. The co-op program has been so successful that it is often taken for granted, but electric cooperatives have changed people’s lives forever. Just 75 years ago, most of rural America was living in the dark.”
Noland added, “Cooperatives will always be on the cutting edge because we’re small, nimble and able to react to the needs of our members. We are focused on staying innovative, keeping our services affordable and catering to the needs of our members.”