Cooperatives: Communities at their very best

October is Co-op Month. Photo features line technicians and cooperative members.Great River Energy is joining 30,000 cooperatives nationwide in October to celebrate National Co-op Month, which recognizes the many ways cooperatives are committed to strengthening the local communities they serve.

Electric cooperatives have been a part of the fabric of Minnesota for more than 80 years. Fourth- and fifth-generation members today enjoy the same benefits of membership as the pioneers who strung the first wires into Minnesota’s countryside.

“Minnesotans are naturally drawn to lakes, rivers and the outdoors. Our state depends heavily on the land for agriculture, tourism and manufacturing. The value that co-ops provide allows us to do all those things,” said Corporate and Member Services Vice President Mark Fagan.

You can still find elders in the community who remember when the co-op formed, first bringing lights and then a long line of conveniences. Today’s young members grew up expecting electricity at all times, and they depend on their cooperative to charge phones and access broadband.

Though the uses for electricity have changed, the sense ownership of the cooperative remains. That’s because the members are the owners. Members vote for their friends and neighbors to oversee the cooperative, entrusting an elected board of directors to use their investment wisely for a dependable power supply.

Cooperatives also form a community of their own kind. When one cooperative endures a tornado, flood or storm, cooperatives from across Minnesota spring to action to provide mutual aid.

“It’s no easy job bringing electricity to our members, and the support of fellow cooperatives provides a strength in numbers,” added Fagan.

Great River Energy is a cooperative owned by 28 member distribution cooperatives. The company provides a supply of power from generation facilities, wind farms and the wholesale power market, and delivers electricity across long distances through a high-voltage transmission network.

Cooperatives are much more than energy companies: concern for community is a core principle of the cooperative business model. Typical cooperative-sponsored economic development initiatives include revitalization projects, job creation, improvement of water and sewer systems, and assistance in delivery of health care and educational services.

In short, co-ops are in the quality of life business by providing essential services for members and their communities.

Follow #CoopMonth on Facebook and Twitter to see how co-ops across the country are celebrating National Co-op Month.