The New, Old Way

Rather than wait for a bunch of money to ride into town to kickstart local job creation, fill empty storefronts, fill empty buildings at Kemptville College and stimulate the local economy in North Grenville, there’s a way for residents to do it themselves. Craft breweries, cheese factories, credit unions, farmers’ markets and even that downtown Kemptville women’s clothing store that women keep hoping for, are all possible through the creation of local co-ops.

Co-ops are community businesses that are formed to seize local opportunities or respond to local challenges and are owned by the members who are also typically the customers of the business. The more money that the members spend at the co-op business, the more profitable the co-op becomes. Each member of a co-op is entitled to one vote regardless of level of investment. No single member can take control of a co-operative and decisions are made by the majority based on the idea that members ultimately know what is best for them. The members elect the Board of Directors and choose what to do with the profits, including things like: share the profits among members, re-invest it into the co-op to build cash reserves, to purchase new assets or to hire more employees to name just a few.

According to the Ontario Co-operative Association website, there are some stats to consider when looking at a co-operative as an option to start a business. There are approximately 1300 co-ops currently in Ontario and there are twice as many co-ops still in business after ten years, than any other type of business enterprise. Co-ops operate in more than 90 countries and employ over 100 million people around the world. In Ontario alone in 2010, co-ops directly accounted for almost $1.5 billion in income and the equivalent of over 22,000 full-time jobs for Ontarians. Co-ops in Ontario also generated $1.3 billion in tax revenue for government services. In 2010, eighteen retail co-ops earned more than $333 million in revenue, eighteen insurance and investment co-ops earned revenues of almost $2.9 billion and twenty two agriculture, forestry and fishing co-ops brought in revenues of $456 million.

If you were to hop in the car and take a 45 minute drive east to the town of Embrun, you’d get an idea of what would be possible through the creation of co-ops. Embrun has an agricultural co-op that owns a large full service ‘Independent’ (Loblaws) grocery store franchise, a Rona building supply store, a gas bar, a car wash and a car repair garage among other agricultural holdings. Area residents can buy a share for only $100 and may even apply for credit to make purchases at any of the co-op businesses.

London Brewing is a successful beer brewing co-op in Southwestern Ontario who were the first workers’ co-operative brewery outside of Quebec. They wanted to open an employees’ co-op because they wanted employees to have meaningful work and the co-op allows employees to be rewarded for that meaningful work through profit-sharing. They also wanted employees to have an equal say in the direction and operation of the brewery. Visit their website at www.londonbrewing.ca.

The Empire Cheese and Butter co-op located just outside of Campbellford, Ontario has been around for over 135 years and is owned by local dairy farmers who supply the milk to make the cheese and butter products. Known for their trademark cheese curds, they supply cheese and butter products to stores all over Eastern and Central Ontario including locally at B&H. To find out more visit www.empirecheese.ca.

With successful examples such as these, it’s not hard to believe that a community-based co-op is not only possible in North Grenville, but it might be the best solution for bringing in some of the types of businesses that people seem to want. No matter what type of business you’re thinking of, co-ops are a viable alternative to the traditional forms of doing business. Why wait for the money to ride into town, when we have all that we need here already?

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