By Dave Holm, Chuck Soderberg and Murray Williams
The concept of cooperation is nothing new. Early human societies cooperated by sharing hunting, fishing, farming and shelter practices to improve their chances of survival. By the 19th century, cooperatives took a more formal shape and expanded into several industries. While many associate cooperatives with agriculture, co-ops also include rural electric service, credit unions, rural telephone, farm credit, petroleum and more. In fact, nearly one out of every two Iowans is a member of a cooperative.
For more than 200 years, Americans have worked together in cooperatives to meet challenges that are too big for them to solve individually. Co-ops are not-for-profit organizations that are owned and democratically controlled by their members. Co-ops exist to benefit the people who use their services instead of generating profits for outside investors, and members elect their board of directors from within the cooperative membership.
As part of National Co-op Month, Gov. Kim Reynolds has declared October as Cooperative Month in Iowa. During this month, cooperatives of all types and from all industries reaffirm their member-owned mission and commitment to the communities they serve.
Co-ops play an important role in both rural and urban Iowa communities. More than 1.5 million people in Iowa are members of at least one cooperative, and many belong to more than one. Between grain and farm supply, petroleum, credit unions, telephone and electric service, cooperatives pay more than $60 million in property taxes to Iowa communities each year. Property taxes paid, especially in rural counties, have a big impact on county budgets and help support critical infrastructure. As the demographics in Iowa continue to change, cooperatives provide stable career opportunities where other industries do not. We need co-ops in rural areas to continue to make these communities viable.
More than 12,000 Iowans are employed by co-ops, which often provide first-class benefits like healthcare, 401k plans, life insurance, paid time off, continued education incentives and wellness plans. In fact, if these co-op employees were grouped together, cooperatives would be among the top 10 largest employers in Iowa. Visit www.IowaCooperatives.com, to learn more about how cooperatives are critical to Iowa’s economy.
Our cooperative industries have been serving members through even the most difficult times, and our biggest impact comes from embracing the values and principles that make us truly unique. Whether it’s the members we serve or the Iowans we employ, our cooperative movement is committed to enhancing economic opportunity and improving the quality of life in Iowa’s cities, towns and rural areas. Quite simply, the cooperative difference benefits Iowans and has long been an economic engine moving our state forward.
Dave Holm is executive director of the Iowa Institute for Cooperatives; Chuck Soderberg is executive vice president and general manager of the Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives; and Murray Williams is president & CEO of the Iowa Credit Union League.