Co-op Leaders Discuss Improving Cooperative Development Policy at Regional Roundtable
By Guy Gregory
MCDC Communications Specialist
A diversity of co-op professionals, government agency officials, and leaders of business and Native American organizations from Montana and North Dakota recently gathered in Billings to discuss the policy and practical challenges of developing co-ops in their largely rural states.
The one-day, “Power in Purpose” Cooperative Policy Roundtable was one of nine being held nationwide by the National Cooperative Business Association (NCBA-CLUSA) and the Cooperative Development Foundation (CDF). The August 28th event was hosted by the Billings-based Native American Development Corporation and co-sponsored by the Montana Cooperative Development Center, North Dakota Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives, South Dakota Value-Added Agriculture Development Center, and Rocky Mountain Farmers Union.
The event began with overviews of co-op development activities in each state and the economic importance of cooperative businesses. Participants met in small groups to identify barriers to cooperative formation in their respective jurisdictions and discussed policies and methods that would help overcome those barriers. In the afternoon, the groups brainstormed ways to improve co-op technical assistance, public education/outreach, and financing strategies that will benefit newly developing cooperatives across this region.
Coordination and cooperation were the dominant themes of the conversations. NCBA-CLUSA President/CEO Doug O’Brien, who moderated the roundtable, said that, “members of an electric co-op, agriculture co-op, or credit union may not even realize that there’s a co-op solution right in front of them. By working together, we can realize that potential.”
Montana Council of Cooperatives (MCOC) Secretary/Treasurer Dave Kelsey attended the event and agreed. “It’s really helpful to get a discussion going and hear ideas from the other states. We got to learn what works and what is positive in some areas that we may not be doing in our own area,” Kelsey told attendees. “When a political matter comes along that affects the telecoms, the electrics, or any other co-ops, it’s likely affecting the members of other co-ops. So we need to coordinate our efforts.”
O’Brien expressed his appreciation that, “so many co-op leaders were willing to come together to lend their expertise and passion for co-ops at today’s roundtable.” Feedback from the roundtable will be included in ongoing research funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The Urban Institute, working in partnership with NCBA-CLUSA, will be drafting a national policy paper addressing needed changes in cooperative development at the local, state and federal levels.