Last week, the Western Governors Association released a special report on Reimagining the Rural West. This initiative, led by Chairman of the WGA North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum, sought to examine the challenges and highlight opportunities in rural economic development, infrastructure, and quality of life.
Cooperatives are featured prominently as an integral part of the solution to these challenges and are included in WGA’s policy recommendations.
For example, one policy recommendation is to increase funding for cooperative development. Specifically, the report cites the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Cooperative Development program saying, “the annual appropriation for the RCDG program is not sufficient to meet the needs of every state. Funding for cooperative development should be increased to support the growing use of cooperative models to meet a diverse array of community needs, including grocery stores, childcare, home care and housing.” WGA includes cooperative development in their recommendation to create an environment in which businesses, entrepreneurs and remote workers prosper.
An important part of increasing opportunity, especially for remote workers, is ensuring broadband connectivity. “Communities without broadband access face significant barriers to pursuing economic and community prosperity,” the report states, and the problem has become more apparent during COVID-19 when employees who are able are working from home, students are Distance Learning, and an increasing number of people are receiving medical consultation through telehealth services. WGA recommends leveraging existing infrastructure to increase broadband access, and states that ‘electric and telephone cooperatives are especially well suited to help deploy cost-effective broadband infrastructure.”
In addition, the special report recommends using the cooperative model to help address the affordable housing crisis and shortage of housing stock. WGA again identifies insufficient resources to meet demand for affordable housing, but states that cooperatives and local partners can increase capacity to create community-tailored solutions.
This recommendation comes on the heels of Colorado Governor Jared Polis signing into law legislation that would make it easier for residents in manufactured home communities to purchase the land on which their homes are located.
In addition to the National Cooperative Business Association CLUSA International, numerous cooperative businesses, co-op professional services organizations and associations representation cooperatives participated in the Western Governors Association events, including the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the North Dakota Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives, Pacific Northwest Farmers Cooperative, Northwest Cooperative Development Center, Cooperative Development Services, Montana Cooperative Development Center, California Cooperative Development Center, the Cooperative Way, NTCA – the Rural Broadband Association, Farm Credit Council, Democracy at Work Institute, and Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association.