We are excited to share the results of a multi-year research and outreach project titled Collective Action in Rural Communities: Mapping Opportunities for Cooperative Conversion and Start-up. The goal of this project was to enhance opportunities for rural cooperative entrepreneurship by providing decision-making tools and research-based information to cooperative and economic developers, rural entrepreneurs, and policy makers. Our report delves into the many ways rural communities are using the cooperative model to meet collective needs and to strengthen local economies.
In the report and highlighted below, you will find:
- factors that contribute to new co-op development in rural areas,
- case studies of five major clusters of new rural co-ops,
- concrete recommendations for you to use in your own work,
- the National Cooperative Ecosystem Resource Map, and more!
For example, we found that 945 cooperatives were incorporated between 2011-2019, with 21% in rural areas (slightly higher than the 19% of the U.S. that is rural). The top member type of new co-ops in rural areas was Consumer, aligning with Grocery as the top clear sector (see report pages 8-9).
Many thanks to the National Institute for Agriculture’s Agriculture Food Research Initiative (AFRI), which funded this major research undertaking.
Factors contributing to new co-op development
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1. Cooperative Development
Presence of business development support that is knowledgeable about cooperatives (e.g. cooperative development centers, small business development centers, employee ownership centers, Extension, etc.)
2. Legal Context
Statutory provisions and/or presence of attorneys with cooperative expertise
3. Co-op Friendly Capital
Presence of community development financial institutions, credit unions, community banks, foundations, or municipalities that are cooperative friendly
4. Co-op Education
Presence of organizations providing education on cooperatives to the general public (e.g. CoMinnesota, Co-op Connection, etc.)
5. Density of Co-ops
Presence of established cooperatives
6. Policy Environment
Presence of policies, plans, or tax incentives that support cooperatives
a. Co-op to Co-op: Degree to which cooperatives are aware of and connected with one another
b. Community: Presence of cooperatives that emerged from an established community network and are intended to support that particular community
Where new co-ops are in rural & all areas (by state)
The research began with two “new cooperative” surveys to identify cooperatives in the United States that incorporated between 2011-2016 and 2016-2019. Appendix B has rural and all new co-op state data and maps by state. The Top 10 States for rural co-ops incorporated are: Wisconsin, Maine, New Hampshire, California, Nebraska, New York, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Colorado. The Top 10 States for urban co-ops are: California, Wisconsin, Massachusetts, New York, Washington, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Vermont, and Colorado.
Cluster case studies
Find many specific examples of growing new cooperatives in a variety of rural contexts. Our clusters include the Northeast (Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire), the Great Plains states of Nebraska and Colorado, the Upper Midwest’s Wisconsin and Minnesota, North Carolina, and Washington. For cluster research, we collected 14 developer survey responses and completed 23 phone interviews of developers and cooperative members. During four site visits we conducted 66 interviews and in-person meetings with 88 individuals and cooperative members, developers, and community supporters. The majority of our interviews and meetings were with cooperative members.
Specific, actionable recommendations are based on the extensive research conducted through this project, and are structured around the ecosystem factors contributing to new cooperative development
This interactive map connects cooperative and economic developers, entrepreneurs, and policy makers with resources in their communities including co-op developers, co-op associations, and co-op friendly capital providers.