While electricity is the main product cooperatives like Great River Energy and its member-owners supply, that isn’t their sole purpose.
More than just power supply and lines, co-ops build jobs, trust, communities and hope. They work to improve the quality of life for those they serve; donate time, energy and resources to organizations that help those in need; and take a leadership role in community development.
The cooperative business model has a history of building community from the ground up. Nearly a century ago when utilities chose not to serve rural areas of America, it was farmers and ranchers who banded together to create the electric cooperatives that would power not only their homes and businesses, but also opportunities for their communities.
Today, 900 electric co-ops provide electricity to more than 19 million businesses, homes, schools and farms. They cover more than half the land in the United States, employ 71,000 people and invest $12 billion a year in local economies. October is the time of year when National Cooperative Month is recognized.
“Our cooperative was built by our 28 member-owner cooperatives and their communities, and we’re nimble,” said David Ranallo, director of culture, communications, marketing and member services at Great River Energy. “Since we’re member-driven, we listen, adapt and grow to meet their needs. We are committed to focused listening and continuous input, so our strategies reflect the needs of our diverse membership and enhance the communities they serve.”
In addition to delivering safe, reliable and affordable electricity to members, electric cooperatives adhere to seven guiding principles that reflect core values of honesty, transparency, equity, inclusion, and service to the greater good of the community.
These values serve as a lens for business decisions and are reflected, for instance, when Great River Energy holds food, blood, supply and book drives; when the co-op supports community-based sponsorships and contributions; and when its economic development services team helps coordinate loans for small businesses to expand.
Great River Energy donates 2% of its income to community causes, and its employees participate in an annual giving campaign that benefits nonprofit organizations across Minnesota and North Dakota. Last year’s giving campaign raised more than $90,000.
Maintaining a thriving community is a team effort. Electric co-ops will continue listening to and learning from the members that built them to better serve and support them long into the future.