USDA funds rural cooperative development in MN and WI

Wisconsin State Farmer


The USDA Office of Rural Development has awarded the sixth round of funding to the University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives (UWCC) and Cooperative Network to develop cooperative businesses in rural communities across Wisconsin and Minnesota.

The $200,000 Rural Cooperative Development Grant (RCDG) will focus on regional food systems; rural broadband access; senior cooperative housing; employee ownership as a business succession and retention strategy; and several cooperative education initiatives.

“The cooperative model is an important tool for retaining wealth and jobs in rural communities.” said Anne Reynolds, executive director of UWCC. “This grant will increase our capacity to deliver cooperative development services to rural communities in Wisconsin and Minnesota.”

UWCC and Cooperative Network see ongoing and significant demand for cooperative development assistance in rural areas of the Upper Midwest. With the help of RCDG funds, UWCC and Cooperative Network will provide technical assistance and counseling to more than 150 existing cooperatives and 25 groups interested in forming new cooperative businesses in the Upper Midwest. These efforts are projected to create or save over 50 jobs. Types of assistance available include organizational development, cooperative education, board training, and support during feasibility and business planning activities.

USDA's Rural Cooperative Development Grants provide funding for nonprofit groups and higher education institutions to operate centers that help establish, expand, or operate rural businesses—particularly cooperatives and mutually-owned enterprises. With this funding, UWCC and Cooperative Network will address five key issues that affect rural America:

  • Regional Food Systems: Develop grocery and marketing cooperatives that provide farmers and rural communities with increased opportunities to meet the growing demand for local products from individual consumers, retailers, and institutions.
  • Rural Broadband Access: Convene telecom, electric, and agriculture cooperatives and other rural stakeholders to explore partnerships that will meet rural community needs for broadband.
  • Senior Cooperative Housing: Provide education and support to senior housing cooperatives through the annual Senior Cooperative Housing Conference in the Twin Cities and quarterly education programs.
  • Business Succession: Increase the use of cooperatives as a business and job retention tool through outreach and the delivery of technical assistance to businesses interested in transitioning to cooperative ownership.
  • Cooperative Education: Provide technical assistance to start up cooperatives and deliver education and training to cooperative board members and new cooperative leaders.

“We are grateful to USDA for continuing to make efforts like these possible,” said Tom Liebe, Cooperative Network president and CEO. “Cooperatives are the lifeblood of many rural communities throughout Wisconsin and Minnesota – two of the top co-op states in the nation. This important grant will help ensure those communities continue to thrive and grow.”