From the Executive Director: Growing Urban Co-ops

I’ve been involved with co-ops for about two decades, but one of the most interesting and exciting developments has broken out in just the last few years: we are witnessing renewed broad interest for cooperatives in urban communities.

City governments all over America are adopting co-op development strategies, as we’re seeing in Minneapolis and Madison.  Co-op businesses are forming associations for mutual support. Citizens are innovating with the co-op model, like the Northeast Investment Co-op, and CDS is receiving other urban inquiries as well.

Unfortunately, almost all core funding for co-op development currently comes from a single USDA program, for projects only in rural places. Cultivating support from cities, foundations, and individual donors is critical to expanding capacity and work in urban communities, so we’re really excited when a respected thought leader like the McKnight Foundation says it wants to learn more about our model, and to understand issues like replicability and scalability.

With all of this foment, what is CDS’s role?

This month we celebrate the 32nd anniversary of the incorporation of the Wisconsin Cooperative Development Council, a predecessor organization.  As I re-read early memos with founders’ visions and hopes, the answers echo:

  • Support local co-op development projects; help them be as successful as they can be.
  • Discern best practices, capture data where possible, and advance the field; don’t let co-ops make the same mistakes over and over.
  • Create sustainable development capacity for the Upper Midwest; cooperate with like-minded organizations and practitioners.
  • Nurture a supportive ecosystem of co-op leaders, educators, lenders, funders, and friends.

This story is playing out in our region right now.  I applaud the City of Minneapolis for creating their Cooperative Technical Assistance Program (CTAP), and foundations like McKnight that invest to help us grow our knowledge, and of course, the individuals who see cooperation as both process and outcome for their communities.

I look forward to seeing how CDS can fan the flames of co-op development in urban spaces in our region.  If you think we can help you, send us an email or give us a call: we’d love to talk.

Kevin Edberg | Executive Director