Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives

Cooperatives foster Iowa's growth

October 7, 2023

The following guest column appeared in the Cedar Rapids Gazette on October 7, 2023, in celebration of Iowa Co-op Month.

Dave Holm is executive director of the Iowa Institute for Cooperatives. Chuck Soderberg is executive vice president and general manager of the Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives. Murray Williams is president and CEO of the Iowa Credit Union League.

Iowa is known for its sprawling fields, tight-knit communities and a spirit of collaboration that has long been a hallmark of its success. While often associated with agriculture and its iconic cornfields, the state boasts a different kind of growth story — one driven by cooperatives.

Many Iowans associate cooperatives with agriculture; however, co-ops also include rural electric service, credit unions, rural telephone, farm credit, petroleum and more. Co-ops are organizations owned and democratically controlled by their members. In fact, nearly one out of every two Iowans is a member of a cooperative.

Agriculture is often intertwined with cooperative principles. From farm and grain supply cooperatives providing farmers with resources and equipment to cooperatives specializing in agribusiness and food production, co-ops empower farmers with collective bargaining power, access to essential resources and sustainable farming practices that ensure both economic viability and environmental stewardship.

Cooperatives also play a pivotal role in keeping rural communities vibrant and alive. Rural cooperatives extend essential services such as energy, financial services, connectivity and health care to regions that might otherwise be overlooked. Collectively, Iowa cooperatives pay more than $75 million in property taxes to Iowa communities each year.

Iowa’s rural electric cooperatives remain committed to powering lives and strengthening their communities. Locally elected co-op directors make informed decisions on behalf of their fellow members and neighbors to ensure reliable, affordable service for years to come. The average household served by an electric cooperative pays about $5.25 a day for power, which is an incredible value in a world increasingly reliant on electricity and connectivity.

Local food networks, nurtured by cooperative efforts, bridge the gap between farmers and consumers. These cooperatives promote healthier eating habits, stimulate regional economies and strengthen the bond between producers and the communities they serve. Similarly, credit unions ensure that every Iowan has access to financial services.

More than 13,000 Iowans are employed by co-ops, which often provide first-class benefits. In fact, if these co-op employees were grouped together, cooperatives would be among the top 10 largest employers in Iowa.

Yet, no growth story is without its challenges. Cooperatives in Iowa face competition, succession planning and regulatory hurdles. However, their history of adaptability and innovation positions them well to navigate these obstacles. By embracing technological advancements and finding new ways to meet modern demands, Iowa's cooperatives are charting a course toward continued success.

As co-ops continue to shape local economies and empower communities, they remind us that growth is about fostering a better future for everyone. 

For More Information:

Erin Campbell
IAEC Director of Communications

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