Banding together for your local economy

Working and living in small towns makes business closures personal for community leaders. Whether the reason is owner retirement, changing trends or international competition, closures stick with us.

Communities suffer each loss in tax revenue, jobs, leadership and morale.

To address the voids, University of Illinois Extension shares insightful counter strategies in various ways. You’ll find related articles archived at

Recovery tactics are available when owners shut doors and corporations pull out. Workshops, such as “Reversing the Exodus,” pertain to retaining youth and understanding generational differences. Varied workshops offer strategies for keeping our communities open and in business.

Alternative business structures also deserve a closer look.

Community Supported Enterprises (CSEs) arise from groups that organize and raise funds to keep something open and/or available. Organizers and contributors typically do not expect a financial return. They are motivated by making the local quality of life better.

Community members have pooled funds plus invested time and energy into grocery stores, restaurants, bookstores and other establishments considered essential to their communities. CSEs can operate essentials such as car dealers, doctors, affordable housing, childcare services and more.

What about intervening to prevent job loss from an impending closure? CSEs can take over an existing business, soon-to-close or be a startup venue.

There is a basic sequence of necessary steps:

Confirm and document an ongoing need to separate emotions and memories away from a real void. Use studies and data to support decisions.

Prepare a communitywide economic development strategy if one doesn’t exist and make certain that any and all CSEs fit.

A common example of failure to communicate on the first two points is the long-shuttered but much-loved local theater. Many communities have had enthusiastic groups organize to save them that never connected to a broader economic development strategy. A supported project means it is deemed essential and embraced by the larger community.

Obtain solid, legal advice about organizational structures. Add cooperatives to corporations, LLCs and other options looked at.

Fundraising is best done with Certified Public Accountant oversight and legal advice.

Have a core group of dedicated and committed leaders. CSEs are hard work, require selflessness and face many challenges.

So, why take on the challenge of a CSE? Because the loss/void of a local resource is a greater pain to bear, losing jobs, youth and a valued service.

As current business owners retire, communities are impacted in many ways. Landmarks and meeting places that add to a place’s attraction are special and more than just another business.

CSEs are legitimate and powerful economic development tools to explore.

A cooperative is an organizational structure that can be applied to many businesses. Beyond agriculture, utilities and artists, the co-op is alive and doing well.

In particular, I found numerous examples in Wisconsin and Minnesota. Illinois can certainly benefit from this organizational model, too.

One resource is Sean Park, program manager for the Illinois Cooperative Development Center at the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs, Western Illinois University. He can be reached at 217-248-0079 or

Groceries, health care providers, apartments and small businesses are turning to this business model with a good survival rate.

Cooperative – a business owned and democratically controlled by people that use the services – your local coffee shop, your main employer and more.

Co-op members focus on making the community better. For example, investment cooperatives buy, rehab and repurpose properties.

Empty commercial buildings and deteriorating housing are often the targets. Members share the common goals of reducing vacancies and raising neighborhood property values. Everyone benefits.

Co-ops can also save local jobs, stepping in when aging owners are ready to close or large corporations make decisions that shake a community to its core.

Employee co-ops are a fast-growing segment because they address big problems.

CSEs and co-ops are legitimate and powerful economic development tools to explore.