Public Radio Commentary
Presented by Brooks Dailey, MFU President
October 24, 2006
October is Co-op Month
Thereís a lot of talk these days about businesses moving operations offshore to increase profits. Some argue it helps the economy while others say it hurts. But one thingís certain. Those who are leaving arenít likely to be cooperatives. Why? Because as member-controlled enterprises, co-ops largely are run by the people who live and work in the communities they serve. That gives them a different perspective from businesses owned by distant investors.
At a time of increasing concern about the nationís economy, co-ops show an important loyalty and commitment to their communities. They are creating jobs, income and opportunity in their hometowns every day.
To be sure, investor-owned businesses generate jobs and make charitable contributions in their communities as well. But for co-ops itís more personal Ė Itís a critical part of what we do and why we do it.
October is the month set aside to recognize the special nature and accomplishments of cooperative business. This year, observances are focusing specifically on co-opsí commitments to their communities.
Cooperatives serve 130 million members nationwide, or four in 10 Americans, and fall into four categories: consumer, producer, worker and purchasing/shared services. Examples of cooperatives found in Montana include credit unions, fuel and feed stores, and grocery, hardware and sporting goods stores, just to name a few. Despite their diversity, co-ops have a few things in common.
All these enterprises are owned and democratically controlled by the people who use their services or buy their goods. Itís one member Ė one vote. And, they are motivated by service to their members.
According to a series of case studies compiled to help mark October as National Co-op Month, cooperative businesses generate hundreds of thousands of jobs and billions in income for their communities while also supporting local causes ranging from education to the environment.
The study reveals that more than 3,000 farmer cooperatives, for example, account for more than 200,000 jobs nationwide and a total payroll of more than $8 billion. Some 270 local, consumer-owned telecommunications cooperatives employ an average of 47 people each and generate more than $2 billion in revenues annually.
Nemont Telephone Cooperative in Scobey, Montana, provides just one example of community commitment. The telephone cooperative has a mentoring program that allows high school students to go through mock interviews and work with the co-opís human resources department to tailor their resumes to specific jobs. Students also can ďshadowĒ a co-op employee working in their area of interest and attend a two-week Telephone Academy at Bismarck State College. Since the programís inception in 1999, more than 250 high school students from 10 school districts have participated. The co-op also offers students college scholarships.
Yes, investor-owned businesses generate jobs and make charitable contributions. But for co-ops itís all tied into where we work, what we do and why we do it. Perhaps the theme for Co-op Month 2006 says it best: Cooperatives: Owned by our members. Committed to our communities.
For the Montana Farmers Union, Iím Brooks Dailey. Thanks for listening.