“Co-ops should be on the policy platform of every presidential candidate,” NCBA CLUSA says in open letter


In an open letter addressed to Republican and Democratic candidates running in the 2020 Presidential Election, NCBA CLUSA is asking presidential hopefuls to recognize the cooperative business model as a tool for the economic success and self-determination of their constituents.

As an integral part of rising to meet challenges that range from rural connectivity and clean energy to affordable housing, food access and financial security, “co-ops should be on the policy platform of every presidential candidate,” the letter states.

“With the challenges facing our country, the co-op model will continue to shine through as a solution that empowers people to champion their own successes by working together. And while the member-owners of cooperatives are the drivers of this success, a policy framework that supports the robust development of cooperatives is imperative,” the letter continues.

Signed by NCBA CLUSA president and CEO Doug O’Brien, the letter invites presidential candidates to engage the cooperative community and discuss ways to incorporate policy solutions into their platforms that would spur co-op development, including greater access to capital and technical assistance, more interagency coordination and increased investment in research and development.

Read the full letter:


Dear Presidential candidates:

As the 2020 presidential election nears, the American people are eager for a renewed debate about the issues that matter to them most and an opportunity to participate in their democracy. As a nation, we are at a critical moment. While many economic indicators are strong and unemployment is low, many Americans still feel excluded as a result of growing inequality, the changing nature of work, and the increasing influence of technology. Cooperatives, or co-ops, are a proven strategy to create sustainable, stable jobs and businesses that drive strong economic growth in our communities. The National Cooperative Business Association CLUSA International is the apex trade association representing the more than 65,000 U.S. cooperative businesses across all economic sectors. On behalf of the more than 115 million member-owners, NCBA CLUSA urges you to embrace the cooperative business model in your policy solutions to equip your constituents with the tools for economic success and self-determination. We seek an opportunity to meet with you on these important issues.

Cooperatives (including credit unions, which are cooperatively-owned financial institutions) are democratically-governed businesses owned by the people who use them. As member-owned businesses, co-ops provide an alternative model to the near-sightedness of investor-owned businesses that are all too often driven by short-term gains at the expense of long-term viability. Instead, co-ops operate in the best interests of their members and communities by contributing to sustainable, inclusive economic development. Co-ops are formed for many reasons, including: to address market failure, to access critical services, to meet community needs, and to create or increase competition. While co-ops are primarily small businesses, they also go to scale—like ACE Hardware and Land O’Lakes—to collectively produce more than $200 billion in annual revenue.

Co-ops have a history of impact. For example, farmers and ranchers have used the cooperative model for over a century to access markets and increase efficiencies for their businesses. And when only ten percent of rural households had access to electricity in the early 1930s, America’s farmers and ranchers went to work solving this problem. By embracing a policy framework put in place by the federal government that empowered rural Americans to invest in themselves and create member-owned utility companies, 90 percent of rural Americans had access to electricity within a generation. Throughout the years, co-ops have used this model to continue to innovate and meet the changing demands of an economy and community. Similarly, credit unions emerged from humble beginnings in communities not served by banks. Today, more than 5,500 credit unions serve more than 100 million member-owners nationwide to meet their financial needs and save for retirement.

As the United States grapples with economic and societal challenges, we are also on the verge of an enormous demographic shift. Ten thousand baby boomers reach age 65 each day. In 2021, 10,000 baby boomers will turn 75 each day. As this generation retires over the next five to 15 years, elected leaders must proactively implement policies to create more sustainable and equitable local economies. Once again, co-ops are an integral part of the solution and should be on the policy platform of every presidential candidate.

Last year, Congress and the Administration enacted the bipartisan Main Street Employee Ownership Act. This law improves access to capital and technical assistance for member-owned businesses and has the potential to create two to four million new worker-owners who will be able to build their own wealth, invest in their communities, and create a strong foundation to keep the economy growing at the local level. Cooperatives provide member-owners a stake in the market—just one of the many reasons co-ops are more resilient and outperform conventional businesses by most measurements.

In addition to being a proven solution for many of the challenges we face at home, cooperative development is also an important tool to improve our national security through international development assistance. Robust investment in international development enjoys broad, bipartisan support for good reason: the U.S. continues to serve as the global leader in fostering democratic values around the globe, and strategic international development investments promote our own national security. People in developing nations will face less violence and be less susceptible to terrorist activity by promoting economic development, particularly among the nations’ young adults. Further, by investing in cooperative development, the U.S. can create new trading partners and boost global economic development through businesses that continue to thrive long after the U.S.-funded project is over. Without U.S. leadership in foreign aid, developing nation’s may turn to nations like China, whose investments may encumber a developing economy for years to come and threaten America’s leadership.

Cooperatives should be an essential part of the solution to growing challenges in sectors such as:

  • Homecare for seniors: In an industry plagued by an 82% turnover rate nationally, employee owned homecare improves quality of care and reduces annual turnover to 30%
  • Rural broadband and connectivity: Nearly 100 electric co-ops (and counting) now provide reliable, high-speed internet to rural consumers who investor-owned internet providers fail to serve
  • Financial products: credit unions serve consumers of all backgrounds, and provide credit and banking services to traditionally under-banked communities
  • Clean energy: Consumers should be at the heart of the burgeoning clean energy movement to help mitigate vulnerabilities resulting from climate change
  • Stable and affordable housing: Housing cooperatives are a lower-lending risk, lower monthly costs to residents, and higher housing satisfaction by owner-tenants
  • Food: Food cooperatives provide access to nutritious, affordable food options that address the needs of the more than 23 million Americans who currently reside in food deserts
  • Platform cooperatives: People who work in the gig economy should own, control and benefit from the profits they help create
  • Childcare: A solution that has proven successful in the more than 500 existing child care cooperatives

To address these challenges, policy solutions should include cooperative businesses through:

  • increasing access to capital for businesses to startup, expand or innovate,
  • technical assistance,
  • interagency coordination at the federal and state levels, and
  • increased investment in research and development.

Co-ops are a vehicle to drive economic inclusion at home and abroad. With the challenges facing our country, the co-op model will continue to shine through as a solution that empowers people to champion their own successes by working together. And while the member-owners of cooperatives are the drivers of this success, a policy framework that supports the robust development of cooperatives is imperative. We look forward to meeting with you to discuss how co-ops can be an important part of your platform.


Doug O’Brien
President & CEO
National Cooperative Business Association CLUSA International

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