Relatively unknown among ordinary people, cooperatives have a substantial presence in America. A 2009 survey by the University of Wisconsin’s Center for Cooperatives found that cooperatives have generated $653 billion in sales and provided jobs for more than 2 million people in the United States. The survey also reveals that there are as many as 30,000 cooperative organizations in America. Cooperative enterprises conduct normal business activities similar to their corporation counterparts, except that cooperatives have a democratic structure, an equitable sharing of income, and vivid commitment to the common good of the surrounding community. Surprisingly, many well-known American businesses are actually cooperatives. The list of widely recognized American cooperatives includes ACE Hardware, Best Western Hotels, Organic Valley, REI, True Value, and WinCo. All of these companies emphasize their business philosophy on democratic values, humanism, and a community focus. Hence, this fact has challenged the conventional wisdom of many ordinary Americans that the foundation of American economic success lays only in the hands of corporations.
Cooperatives involve large-scale structural reform that ordinary Americans can implement right where they live; giving small groups a pragmatic and effective way to push back against the arrogance and avarice of the centralized, hierarchical corporate model. Not only do co-ops work economically, they also privilege ordinary people, offering real democratic participation and putting some “unity” back in “community.”
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** Horohito Norhatan is a graduate student at the Center who is interested in cooperatives and is sharing with us a series of articles on his favorite research topic, cooperatives, Horohito received his M.L.S. in political leadership and public services from Fort Hays State University. His research focuses on cooperative movement, economic democracy, political economics, and development policy. In his graduate thesis, “Cooperative Impacts on Poverty Eradication in Indonesia,” he investigated the impact that Indonesian cooperative organizations had in reducing the poverty rate, generating community wealth, and increasing the regional gross domestic product. Under the guidance of Dr. Xabier Irujo, Horohito is conducting research related to Basque cooperative organizations and their impact on the development of the Basque economy.