In a May 17 letter, U.S. Representatives Ed Royce (R-CA) and Mark Pocan (D-WI), co-chairs of the Congressional Cooperative Business Caucus, urged U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker to consider including cooperative businesses in the 2017 Economic Census—a move that would end a decades-long absence of federally-reported data on co-ops in the U.S.
The letter, signed by seven other members of the U.S. House of Representatives—among them three members of the caucus: Ron Kind (D-WI), Reid Ribble (R-WI) and Barbara Lee (D-CA)—points out that since 1997, the Economic Census survey forms stopped providing a checkbox for “cooperative” in its Legal Form of Organization question.
NCBA CLUSA’s Advocacy team is pleased that the request is bipartisan, including five Republicans and four Democrats. The signatories also represent a wide spectrum of Americans, hailing from California, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Ohio, Arkansas and Pennsylvania.
The census letter was part of an advocacy toolkit distributed by NCBA CLUSA members to 27 Congressional offices during the fly-in portion of the organization’s 2016 Annual Cooperatives Conference earlier this month. Alan Knapp, Vice President of Advocacy for NCBA CLUSA, said movement on the letter is a testament to the leadership of the Congressional Cooperative Business Caucus and the efforts of fly-in participants. It also illustrates the “great potential” that coordination between the caucus and the USDA Interagency Working Group on Cooperative Development has to raise the profile of co-ops in the U.S., he said.
“The USDA has been working with their counterparts at the U.S. Census Bureau to ensure that stakeholders who want cooperatives measured in the next census are heard. This letter helps reinforce and support that work,” Knapp said.
In a joint press release from his office yesterday, Rep. Royce said cooperatives nationwide “deliver critical goods and services” while “allowing their members to share in their success. As a longtime advocate of credit unions, mutual insurers and rural electric co-ops,” he added, “I believe policymakers should have a better handle on how these organizations are building a stronger economy.”
Rep. Pocan contributed to the joint release, pointing out that cooperatives are present in “virtually every sector of the U.S. economy” where they “create good-paying jobs and offer employees a chance to be directly involved in business decisions.”
Rep. Pocan added that in his district alone—Wisconsin’s Dane County—there are 80 cooperative businesses, making it the highest per capita of co-ops of any county in the country.
“But despite their prevalence in the economy and positive consumer attitudes, there is relatively little data available on co-ops. To better advocate on federal policy issues unique to the cooperative community, it is vital we have ample data on this vibrant sector of our economy,” Rep. Pocan said.
The full letter, available here, indicates that since the U.S. Census Bureau stopped identifying the cooperative business sector in any of its census or business reporting surveys, the only available data on co-ops came from federally-supported research by the University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives in 2007.
That study found that there were 29,000 cooperatives in the U.S. that account for more than $3 trillion in assets, more than $500 billion in revenue, $25 billion in revenue and sustain nearly two million jobs. NCBA CLUSA now estimates that there are closer to 40,000 cooperative businesses in the U.S., but census data is needed to confirm that number.
“The next Economic Census in 2017 provides the perfect opportunity to measure their [cooperatives’] impact nationwide,” the letter reads. “We support this work and ask that the Census Bureau coordinate with all stakeholders on this issue and work together with them on how to best ensure more data-driven information is readily available on cooperatives.”