As a recent graduate from Worcester State College, Richard Larochelle accepted a position with the Rural Electrification Administration (REA), now known as the Rural Utilities Service, an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. During a brief stint as a rate analyst with the Boston Edison Company, he gained a new appreciation for the difference between investor-owned and co-op business models. Having embraced the cooperative business model as a catalyst for bettering the lives of rural Americans, Larochelle in 1984 joined the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) as an economic and policy analyst. He was quickly transitioned to NRECA’s Government Relations Department, which he led for a decade as chief lobbyist.
At the time, rural America had largely missed out on the economic resurgence sweeping the U.S. as a whole. Agricultural income had hit some of its lowest levels since the Great Depression and farm foreclosures headlined nightly newscasts. Larochelle knew that electric co-ops had already achieved one of the greatest economic development undertakings in the nation’s history-electrifying much of rural America-and believed cooperatives were uniquely positioned to further improve the rural quality of life.
In the early 1990s, Larochelle helped NRECA and its members secure passage of the federal Rural Electrification Administration Improvement Act, which allowed cooperatives to buy out REA direct and insured loans at a discount, eliminating some of the red tape borrowers had previously dealt with.
Larochelle then turned his sights toward the emerging satellite television industry, in which electric co-ops had invested considerable resources. At the time, cable channels were charging satellite providers up to 500 percent more than local cable companies for the same programs, deepening an information gap between rural and urban/suburban America. When President H. W. Bush vetoed Congress’ Cable Television Consumer Protection and Competition Act in 1992, Larochelle steered advocacy efforts to successfully override the veto, believing that access to satellite television had the same potential to transform rural America that power lines did in the 1930s and 40s.
In 1996, Larochelle joined the National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corporation (CFC) as director of corporate relations. Two years later, he became CFC senior vice president of corporate relations, where he helped electric co-ops emerge from the deregulation era stronger than ever. While at CFC, he also encouraged the organization to contribute millions to NRECA International, believing that electric co-ops were ideally suited to bring electricity and economic progress to the developing world.
Although retired, Larochelle continues to contribute to the advancement of cooperatives through his service on the Cooperative Development Foundation Board of Directors and involvement with a startup food co-op in his community. In the fall of 2016, the University of Mary Washington offered its first course on cooperative business with Larochelle as adjunct professor, educating a new generation on the benefits of the cooperative business model.
The Cooperative Hall of Fame is administered by the Cooperative Development Foundation (CDF), a 501(c)(3) non-profit foundation headquartered in Washington, D.C. promoting community, economic and social development through cooperative enterprises.The Cooperative Hall of Fame gallery is on display at NCBA CLUSA headquarters in Washington, D.C., and can also be viewed online at www.heroes.coop.