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USDA funding supports rural cooperative development in Wisconsin and Minnesota

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Office of Rural Development recently awarded a fifth 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 Rural Cooperative Development Grant (RCDG) program exists to help rural cooperatives and small businesses expand, create jobs and strengthen their capacity to serve rural citizens and communities. The $200,000 grant will focus on food, agriculture, and healthcare industries; broadband access; senior housing; the promotion of employee ownership as a business succession and retention strategy; and several cooperative education initiatives.

“The cooperative model is an important tool for supporting entrepreneurship, wealth creation, and delivery of critical services, especially in rural areas,” says 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 continue providing technical assistance and counseling to existing cooperatives and groups interested in forming new cooperative businesses in the Upper Midwest. Types of assistance available include organizational development, cooperative education, board training, and support during feasibility and business planning activities.

RCDG funding provides support 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.
  • Health Care: Increase access to health care by supporting national health care Consumer Operated and Oriented Plans; develop a captive workers’ compensation insurance cooperative for rural Wisconsin hospitals; support worker-owned homecare cooperatives; and explore the feasibility of a rural hospital collaborative that would reduce hospital expenses.
  • Senior Housing: Provide education and support to senior housing cooperatives through the annual Senior Cooperative Housing Conference in the Twin Cities and quarterly education programs.
  • Broadband Access: Research and disseminate possible cooperative solutions for accessing and developing rural broadband infrastructure in Wisconsin, as well as regionally and nationally.
  • Business Succession: Increase the use of cooperatives as a business and job retention tool and deliver technical assistance to businesses interested in transiting to cooperative ownership.

“This partnership has allowed much greater ability for individuals, groups and cooperatives to access the development resources of two of the nation’s largest and most influential cooperative organizations,” says Tim Clay, vice president of operations for Cooperative Network. “We look forward to continuing this joint effort with UWCC to improve rural communities throughout the region.”

Established in 1962, the University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives focuses on education, research and outreach on all aspects of the cooperative business model, including development, finance, structure and governance. The Center’s interdisciplinary programs build on the resources of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Wisconsin Extension, and are implemented through partnerships with UW faculty, staff and extension agents, federal and state agencies, state cooperative councils, cooperative business groups and others. For more information, please visit

Cooperative Network serves more than 400 Wisconsin and Minnesota member-cooperatives by providing government relations, education, marketing, and technical services for a wide variety of cooperatives including farm supply, health, dairy marketing, consumer, financial, livestock marketing, telecommunications, electric, housing, insurance, worker-owned cooperatives and more. For more information about Cooperative Network, visit

For more information, contact Megan Webster,, (608) 890-1048 or Jenny Bernhardt,, (608) 258-4391.