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:60 PSA


Cooperatives are Member-owned Businesses

Cooperatives are part of the self-help tradition of America. Cooperatives are businesses organized by people to provide needed goods and services. Cooperative businesses:

  • are owned by the people who use their services;
  • provide an economic benefit for their members;
  • are democratic organizations, controlled by their members;
  • are autonomous and independent;
  • recognize the importance of education about cooperative business and organizational practices;
  • support cooperation among cooperatives, which has resulted in the growing importance of cooperatives in today’s global economy; and
  • exhibit concern for their communities.

Cooperatives Serve Many Needs

Cooperatives provide just about any good or service their members need. Cooperatives offer credit and financial services, health care, child care, housing, insurance, legal and professional services. Cooperatives sell food, farm supplies, hardware and recreational equipment. They provide utilities, such as electricity, telephone, television and Internet service. Cooperatives process and market products and goods for their members.

  • Throughout the United States, approximately 29,000 cooperatives serve 100 million members. Worldwide, there are an estimated 750,000 cooperatives that serve over 800 million members.
  • Cooperatives come in all sizes, from small buying clubs to businesses included in the Fortune 500. Many cooperatives are household names, for example Land O’Lakes, Ocean Spray, Sunkist, ACE Hardware, Nationwide Insurance, and the Associated Press.
  • 29 cooperatives have annual sales in excess of $1 billion. These top cooperatives represent a diverse mix of industries: agriculture, food, hardware, health care, finance, utilities, bottling, recreational equipment and communications.
  • About 30 percent of farmers’ products and farm supplies in the United States are marketed through more than 3,000 farmer-owned cooperatives. A majority of the nation’s farmers and ranchers belong to these co-ops.
  • Approximately 840 distribution and 65 generation and transmission cooperatives serve 42 million people in 47 states. Electric cooperatives serve 12 percent of the nation’s population, providing electricity to 18.5 million businesses, homes, schools, churches, farms, irrigation systems and other establishments in 2,500 of 3,141 counties in the United States.
  • To perform their mission, electric cooperatives employ 70,000 people in the United States.
  • Consumer-owned and controlled cooperatives pioneered prepaid, group-practice health care. Today cooperative health-maintenance organizations (HMOs) provide health-care services to more than 1.8 million American families
  • About 7,000 federally insured credit unions serve approximately 9.2 million members and have approximately $679 on deposit.
  • More than 250 purchasing co-ops offer group buying and shared services to more than 50,000 independent businesses.
  • More than 6,400 housing cooperatives provide dwellings for some three million residents. With 1.2 million cooperative housing units, the co-ops serve households that have a wide range of income levels and housing needs.
  • Food cooperatives have been innovators in the marketplace in the areas of unit pricing, consumer protection and nutritional labeling. There are about 350 retail food co-ops in the U.S.
  • 260 telephone cooperatives provide service to 1.2 million households and are often the first to provide advanced telecommunication services to rural areas.
  • Some 700 purchasing cooperatives offer group buying and shared services to more than 6,000 members.
  • More than 50 million Americans are served by insurance companies owned by or closely affiliated with cooperatives. There are more than 1,000 mutual insurance companies that total more than $80 billion in net written premiums.
  • The exact number of individuals in the United States who are cooperative members is hard to pin down because many individuals belong to more than one cooperative.  Some estimates show that almost 40 percent of the U.S. population belongs to a cooperative.
  • CHS, a Fortune 100 Company, is the country’s largest cooperative.

Cooperatives Have a Big Impact on Wisconsin’s Economy

According to a study by the University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives, 2.9 million cooperative members in the Badger State depend on approximately 650 co-ops to market and supply agricultural products as well as to provide credit, electricity, telephone service, health care, housing, insurance, and many other products and services. Wisconsin co-ops annually record about $8.6 billion in revenue and they employ approximately 19,000 Wisconsin residents, paying nearly $780 million in wages and benefits each year.

  • Wisconsin was one of the first states to enact a law authorizing cooperatives in 1887.
  • Anne Pickett started the first dairy cooperative in the state in 1841, pooling milk from neighborhood farms, processing it into cheese and shipping it to Milwaukee for sale.
  • The first Wisconsin rural electric cooperatives were energized in May of 1937 in Richland Center and Columbus.
  • Wisconsin’s earliest town mutual associations were organized in February 1860—one in Manitowoc County and one in Kenosha County.
  • The Cochrane Cooperative Telephone Company, incorporated in 1905, was among the first telephone companies in the state.
  • Cooperative livestock marketing had its beginnings in Wisconsin during the 1920s, when local livestock shipping associations organized at rail points to ship livestock to a terminal market. With transportation and livestock processing improvements, cooperative auction markets were organized in 1957.
  • The first grain farmer cooperative and elevator was started in Madison in 1857. It was called the Dane County Farmers’ Protective Union.

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Cooperatives are Part of Your Life

Cooperatives are everywhere—helping people meet their common needs through group effort. Look around your community—you’ll probably find a cooperative or two. Some cooperatives do not have the word “cooperative” in their names, so you may not always know the enterprise is cooperatively organized. Yet there are cooperatives for everything. You’ll find them everywhere people need to get things done efficiently and economically








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