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Co-ops vital in rural economic development

If you are not a member, your neighbor is. Today, nearly one out of every two Iowans is a member of at least one cooperative, according to the Iowa Institute of Cooperatives.

Cooperatives in Iowa provide more than 10,000 good-paying jobs and count nearly 1.5 million Iowans as their members. If cooperative employees were grouped together, cooperatives would be one of the top 10 employers in Iowa.

“As the demographics in Iowa continue to change, co-ops continue to provide career opportunities where other industries do not,” says David Holm, executive director, Iowa Institute of Cooperatives. “Cooperatives have a strong commitment to community that enhances economic opportunity and improves quality of life in Iowa’s cities, towns and rural areas.”

Key Points

Cooperatives play a vital role in fostering rural economic development in Iowa.

If you live in rural Iowa you are being touched daily in some way by co-ops.

Co-ops are locally or regionally owned by members; many of the dollars stay local.


For many years USDA Rural Develop-ment, through a variety of funding programs, has supported cooperatives in their efforts to create economic development in rural America. “Because cooperatives are locally or regionally owned by their members, a large percentage of these dollars stay local, circulating in rural counties and communities,” says Bill Menner, USDA Rural Development state director in Iowa.

“These dollars also support other local businesses and generate tax revenues that, in turn, support schools, police and fire services, and other local government services,” Menner says.

Supporting local communities

During the past three years more than $300 million in direct loans, guaranteed loans and grants from USDA Rural Development have assisted nearly 100 cooperatives with a wide variety of activities, including expanding broadband to rural parts of the state, improving electrical transmissions and creating local revolving loan funds.

Corn Belt Power, headquartered in Humboldt, has been one of the most active cooperatives using USDA Rural Development programs. Corn Belt Power received its first USDA loan in 1996.

During the past 15 years, the rural electric cooperative has received three intermediary re-lending program loans from the USDA totaling $1.8 million and 11 rural economic development loans and grants totaling $3.5 million.

Corn Belt Power has used the funds to assist a variety of projects in north-central Iowa, including hospitals, aquatic centers, speculative buildings, and city and county projects, as well as for-profit business ventures to boost the local economy.

To date, the USDA-assisted revolving loan fund has helped nearly 60 projects and loaned out more than $8.7 million to those projects. The funds have created 476 jobs and retained another 1,161 jobs. Today, the revolving loan fund totals more than $5 million.

Helping the rural economy

“We continue to build strong community partnerships that help create wealth and new jobs while increasing both the wage and tax base to sustain our rural population,” says Jim Vermeer, vice president, development, Corn Belt Power. “Without our partnership with USDA Rural Development, our efforts to improve the rural economy would be more difficult and challenging.”

129,000 members strong

It’s hard to live in rural America without being touched almost daily in some way by cooperatives. In Iowa, grain and farm supply co-ops have 129,000 member owners. Rural electric co-ops operate in 48 communities and employ more than 1,200 people.

Iowa has more locally owned and operated telecommunications providers than any other state, while credit unions do business in 290 communities across Iowa.

A recently released survey by USDA reported that farmer cooperatives have created and added more than 7,000 jobs since 2010, boosting the number of jobs at agricultural co-ops nationwide to close to 200,000.

The survey also showed that in 2010 agriculture cooperatives nationwide had their second-best year with sales reaching $170 billion.

“I believe the potential of cooperative businesses to help more Americans improve the quality of their lives is nearly unlimited,” Menner adds. “Every day we work hard to continue to foster cooperative development and strive to help improve cooperative operations.”

Leach is public information coordinator with USDA Rural Development in Iowa.

Iowa Co-op Hall of Fame

The Iowa Institute for Cooperatives, based in Ames, inducted two outstanding co-op members into its Hall of Fame at the organization’s recent 2011 annual meeting. Honored were longtime cooperative managers J. Gordon Toyne of Davenport and Donald F. Williams of Marion.

Toyne’s 40-year career in the dairy business began in 1964 as a butter and cheesemaker in State Center. He became a milk hauler and later operated and owned a milk-hauling business. In 1981, Toyne became general manager of the Elgin Co-op Creamery in Elgin, Minn.

Toyne started his career with Swiss Valley Farms in 1990 when he moved to the Quad Cities to become the company’s vice president of membership and procurement. He was promoted to co-CEO in 2003 and retired from full-time work in 2008.

Williams is a tireless supporter of the cooperative system with 21 years of service with Iowa’s electric co-ops. He served 12 years on the Central Iowa Power Cooperatives, the past three years as president. Williams has been a member of the Linn County Rural Electric Cooperative at Marion, Iowa, since 1959, having served as a director, assistant secretary, secretary and president over the years.

The Iowa Institute for Cooperatives established the Iowa Cooperative Hall of Fame in 1999. Since then, 33 people have been selected to receive the award.


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HALL OF FAMERS: Gordon Toyne (left) and Donald Williams were inducted into the Iowa Cooperative Hall of Fame as part of the Iowa Institute for Cooperatives’ 2011 annual meeting in Ames.

This article published in the January, 2012 edition of WALLACES FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2012.