Co-ops commit to you

NRECA CEO Jim Mattheson

Every day, you count on your local electric cooperative to deliver the safe, reliable and affordable power you need to live your life and get things done. As a co-op member, you already know the benefits of doing business with a not-for-profit, locally controlled ­company that shares your values and gives back to your community.

But you might not realize that your electric cooperative is just one of the cooperative enterprises around the world that collectively employs an ­estimated 250 million people and each year generates $2.2 trillion in ­economic activity.

Each year in October, America’s electric cooperatives join forces with more than 40,000 other cooperatively owned enterprises across the United States to observe Co-op Month. The event is a chance to celebrate a ­business model that puts people ahead of profits, and recognizes the ­countless ways the cooperative ­economy touches our lives every day.

Beyond the energy industry, ­cooperatives can be found serving members and delivering essential goods and services in just about every segment of our nation’s economy.

Cooperatives gather and report our news, give us places to live, care for our children and help us access healthcare when we are sick. More than 100 million Americans keep their money in credit unions, which are financial cooperatives. Some of the food on your table was likely ­fertilized, brought to market, ­processed and delivered to your neighborhood store using the products and services of several cooperatives.

Five of the nation’s 10 largest auto insurance companies, ­including Illinois-based State Farm, are co­­operatives. Many grocers, hardware stores and other small retail shops get their merchandise from wholesale cooperatives that allow them to pool their buying power to ­compete with big national chains.

The diversity of America’s cooperative ­economy is remarkable. And all cooperatives, no matter their industry, size or field of membership, share a commitment to serving their members and solving problems that are too complex for one person or business to effectively address on their own.

One way your local electric co­operative brings that commitment to life is through its memberships in the Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

These groups allow your local co­operative to complement its own skills, experience and resources with those of more than 75,000 ­employees working at 900 sister electric ­cooperatives in 47 states. This ­arrangement is especially helpful as America’s electric cooperatives work to meet the evolving needs of our members and the communities we serve.

We live in a complex world where rapid advances in tech­nology are changing the way we live, ­communicate and use energy. Cooperatives in Illinois and all across the nation are experimenting with these technologies to determine which ones make sense for their ­communities and consumers.

Each lesson we learn as we make this transition adds to the collective wisdom of the cooperative ­network. Co-ops can draw upon this ­knowledge when deciding which technologies and services are right for their members.

This cooperation among co­operatives is leading our nation toward a brighter energy future. It’s also helping us recover from significant challenges.

As Hurricane Harvey tore through the Gulf Coast last month, America’s electric cooperative network was working together to help the region get back on its feet. Hundreds of mutual aid crews rushed to the scene to help local co-op employees get the lights back on. And as those crews worked long hours in the field, represen­tatives from state and national co-op associations were in constant contact with senior officials from key government agencies coordinating the response and ensuring that our crews had all the equipment and supplies they needed.

Innovation and resiliency are just two of the many ways you and your neighbors benefit from being ­members of a local electric ­cooperative. Every time you flip a switch, remember that your member­ship connects you to millions of other rural energy consumers served by ­consumer-owned co-ops just like yours.

But don’t let all the big numbers distract you from the most important fact of all: Co-ops are people-centered enterprises, and everything we do is made possible because of individual members like you.

Jim Matheson is CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, a national service ­organization based in Arlington, Virginia, ­representing the interests of the nation’s more than 900 not-for-profit, consumer-owned utilities and the 42 million Americans they serve. Prior to joining NRECA, Matheson served the people of Utah for 14 years as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.