October is National Cooperative Month, and this year, USDA is helping to focus attention on the multiple ways cooperatives help build more vibrant communities and improve the livelihoods of their members. USDA’s theme for the annual celebration is: “Co-ops Empower America, USDA Empowers Co-ops.”
Cooperatives are a versatile business model that can address many needs, such as affordable housing, utility services (including electricity and broadband), agriculture production (including local foods) and can help convert existing businesses to worker ownership.
USDA fosters and supports cooperative development by providing professional technical assistance, providing co-op education and research materials, forging partnerships with rural development organizations, and by helping to secure funding for projects in underserved areas.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack recently signed a Cooperative Month Proclamation that salutes the nation’s entire cooperative business sector of about 30,000 co-ops. These co-ops generate $650 billion in revenue and more than $75 billion in wages, according to a study conducted by the University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives, with support from USDA Rural Development.
USDA has also released its annual Top 100 Agriculture Co-op list, which shows that Iowa is home to more Top 100 co-ops (15) than any other state. These co-ops had $149 billion in business volume (counting sales and other income) and had record net income of $4.9 billion in 2015.
Co-op Month celebrations will take place across the country in recognition of the multiple ways co-ops empower local communities. They do this by creating jobs and marketing opportunities, and by boosting the income of member-owners. Co-ops also enhance community members’ leadership skills and promote civic engagement.
You can be a part of the co-op movement by participating in USDA’s series of webinars and other events that will address key issues facing cooperatives. Topics include how to start a co-op, the legal basics of co-ops, and ways to finance co-op businesses. Stories will also be shared about how co-ops can promote social justice, resource conservation, youth engagement, and entrepreneurship. A full calendar of events for Co-op Month can be downloaded here – we look forward to your participation!