On April 6, 2009, as the global economy continued to decline and the financial crisis grew, a glimmer of hope appeared in a long feature published in the New York Times about cooperative businesses.
Within the 4-page-long feature, cooperatives were described as the “epitome of democracy” by Roberta MacDonald, Senior Vice President of Marketing for Cabot Creamery Cooperative, a dairy co-op owned by 1,200 farm families throughout New England and New York. The feature highlighted how cooperative membership was paving the way toward economic security during the Recession for millions of people by offering them ownership and say in the businesses that affected their lives. These included dairy, fruit, and almond farmers; home improvement retailers; hardware and grocery store-owners; credit union members; and consumer-owners of electrical utility cooperatives. Eight years later, these same cooperatives, and many others, continue to thrive and grow.
Members of cooperatives in diverse economic sectors worked together to persevere through hard times by joining together their efforts, sourcing quality merchandise and purchasing in bulk, sharing best practices, and aggregating farming and production efforts under well-known brand names. Cooperatives have proven to be a business model that can persist through turbulent economic times as this feature described. Relying on one another for strength and upholding their values-based business practices, co-ops offered hope to millions of Americans in a very uncertain time.
During the Recession, many small businesses struggled to compete against large box stores. But through cooperative membership, independent business owners, worker-owners, farmer-owners, and consumer-owners were able to keep earnings in the hands of their co-op memberships instead of handing any over to greedy outside investors. This allowed them to invest time and energy into their co-ops and communities while working together to stay in business. The result? Co-ops held their ground and continued to serve members and their communities throughout the Recession. CCA Global Partners, a cooperative of 14 divisions of independent retailers ranging from biking stores to home improvement stores, exemplified its cooperative strength during the Recession, as a quarter of the businesses in the industries in which CCA Global operates went out of business versus only 1% of CCA Global’s membership.*
While thinking of this important throwback, let’s also take a look at the future. Efforts to increase awareness and understanding of cooperatives around the world are taking hold, and co-ops everywhere have ambitious goals for future growth, sustainability, and positive community impact. Surely, the model will continue to stand out among conventional businesses. As Henry Ford said, “Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.” Let’s cooperate on!
* Feingold, J. (2016, January 22). Q&A with CCA Global CEO Howard Brodsky. Retrieved March 30, 2017, from New Hampshire Business Review