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Conferences To Examine Cooperatives As Tools For Economic Development

At one-day training conferences April 2 in Eau Claire and April 3 in Madison, the University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives and Cooperative Development Services will highlight some of the country”s most innovative cooperative development strategies.

The training is geared primarily to professionals, public officials, and community leaders in Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota who share the goal of sustained community and economic development in the 21st century. Prospective “founders” of proposed new cooperatives in this region are also welcome.

The conferences will bring in speakers from around the country, such as Dave Carter of the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union. Carter will discuss his involvement with a group of 200 wheat growers in Colorado who recently invested $5 million together to build a large-scale bakery, which will add significant value to their raw products.

“For years, farmers have talked about moving forward in the wheat processing business,” Carter explained, “but our farmers have now stepped up to the table to make it happen.”

Their new enterprise, Mountain View Harvest, is just one of a hundred new “value-added” businesses that farmers have started in the Upper Midwest in the past seven years. These so-called “new generation cooperatives” will be one of several cooperative strategies presented at the April conferences.

The conferences will also reveal how wood product companies in rural Arkansas teamed up to pursue joint bids for major projects. They will also have examples of family-owned companies making bulk purchases together to cut costs and compete better against national chains, as well as how local governments and non-profits are using the same strategies to achieve economies of scale and avoid duplication.

Finally, the conferences will show how consumers and workers have come together to secure basic needs like child care, home ownership, foods and supplies, and even employment opportunities. Local and national examples of these innovative, “self-help” efforts will be presented.

Registration fees for the conferences are $50 until March 17, and $65 after March 17. To receive registration materials for the conferences, call (608) 262-0705 and leave your name and address. The UWCC home page is at http://www.wisc.edu/uwcc/