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Research Data Center Launched to Capture Cooperative Data

The University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives (UWCC) celebrated the official dedication of the new University of Wisconsin Madison Federal Statistical Research Data Center (FSDRC) on September 21, 2015. The FSRDC, the first and only facility of its type in Wisconsin, will provide researchers with access to federal confidential microdata data.

UWCC’s faculty director, Brent Hueth, who serves as director of the new FSRDC says that “research in a Census RDC is to social science research what the cadaver is to human anatomy, or the Hubble Telescope to astronomy. It's a place where researchers can really see what's going on inside households and firms over a long-term period, which provides tremendous new opportunities for developing a better understanding of the ways in which place, family, public policy and the economy affect life outcomes."

The FSDRC is the next chapter in UWCC’s efforts to measure the impact of cooperatives. It will enable campus researchers to better study and qualify aspects of the food and agricultural economy.  “I’m interested in what’s going on in rural areas, and in the cooperative business model that is so important to the agricultural sector,” said Hueth. This is an important step to capturing accurate and complete data on cooperatives, which currently is difficult and time consuming to collect. UWCC’s efforts will help describe the impact of cooperative businesses on rural communities and farm income as well as assist in the development of benchmarking tools.  

Created in a partnership between UW-Madison and the FSRDC Network, the center also offers great potential for interdisciplinary research. Participating faculty represent six colleges and schools on campus: Agricultural and Life Sciences, Business, Education, Human Ecology, Letters & Science, and Medicine and Public Health. Out of the 23 other FDRDCs across the United States, this if the first to raise the money without funding from the National Science Foundation.
UW-Madison Chancellor Becky Blank and UWCC Faculty Director Brent Hueth at the Wisconsin Federal Statistical Research Data Center Inauguration.
Chancellor Blank provides opening remarks to a packed house at the inagural event for the first FSRDC in Wisconsin.
News coverage:

Mergers, Broadband, Big Data and Fertilizers Explored at Farmer Cooperatives Conference

The 18th Annual Farmer Cooperatives Conference, Nov. 5-6 in Minneapolis, will provide a unique opportunity to hear cooperative leaders assess their business environment and discuss major issues affecting farmer-owned cooperatives. Topics will include:
  • Fertilizer Markets and the Changing Supply Chain – An update on fertilizer markets and the most significant drivers of change in the supply chain.
  • Rural Broadband: Challenges and Opportunities – Modern agriculture demands modern digital connections. What’s on the horizon for high speed Internet access?
  • Sustainability in the Value Chain – How can companies embed sustainability into the supply chain while creating value for members and customers?
  • Recent Trends in Cooperative Restructuring, Mergers and Acquisitions –  Practical advice on successful strategies, from experienced advisers in agribusiness restructuring.
  • Big Data: Data Warehousing, Standard Setting and Legal Issues - What are the emerging issues for agriculture in this fast-growing field?
  • Investing in Rural Infrastructure – Strong rural economies require strategic investments in infrastructure. 
The Farmer Cooperatives Conference brings speakers who represent a wide range of expertise and experience including: 
  • Ruth Bauer, RS Fiber
  • Jos Bijman, Wageningen University and Research Centre
  • Shirley Bloomfield, National Telephone Cooperative Association
  • Piet Boer, FrieslandCampina
  • Michael Boland University of Minnesota
  • Doug Brunt, Land O'Lakes
  • Dennis Buckmaster, Purdue
  • Chuck Conner, National Council of Farmer Cooperatives
  • Neil Fleishman, Green Markets
  • Mark Hanson, Stoel Rives
  • Adam Holton, CHS, Inc.
  • Todd Janzen, Plews Shadley Racher & Braun
  • Jay Mattison, National Dairy Herd Information Association
  • Mary McBride, CoBank
  • Steve Peterson, General Mills
  • Jasper Schneider, National Information Solutions Cooperative
  • Richard Sobalvarro, Raijowski Hansmeier
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UWCC Increases Co-op Development Capacity through USDA Funding

The University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives (UWCC) is among 30 national recipients of a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Cooperative Development Grant (RCDG). The RCDG program exists to help rural cooperatives and small businesses expand, create jobs, and strengthen their capacity to serve rural citizens and communities. This is the fifth round of RCDG funding for UWCC and our grant partner Cooperative Network. UWCC and Cooperative Network see ongoing and significant demand for cooperative development assistance in rural areas of the Upper Midwest and the $200,000 RCDG award will help meet this demand. UWCC and Cooperative Network will continue providing technical assistance and counseling to existing cooperatives and groups interested in forming new cooperative businesses in the Upper Midwest. Types of assistance available include organizational development, cooperative education, board training, strategic planning, and support during feasibility and business planning activities. Key project areas include the food, agriculture, and healthcare industries; broadband access; senior housing; the promotion of employee ownership as a business succession and retention strategy; and several cooperative education initiatives.
In addition to RCDG funding, UWCC has received $25,000 through a USDA Socially Disadvantaged Groups Grant to support the expansion of existing worker owned homecare cooperatives and the development of replication strategies to hasten the creation of new homecare cooperatives to meet the rapidly growing demand for high quality homecare services. UWCC is partnering with the Cooperative Development Foundation to carry out this work. 

Cooperative Conversions Benefit Business Owners, Employees, and the Community

Succession planning is an important tool for business owners, whether they are retiring baby boomers or young entrepreneurs who are ready for their next challenge. Many business owners overlook the possibility of selling the business to their employees, but it is often the most promising succession option and can have added benefits for the selling owner(s), the employees, and the community that depends on the business for goods, services, and jobs. Over the last two years, UWCC has worked with two Wisconsin businesses to transition to cooperative ownership: Four Star Video Heaven, a video rental store in Madison, and Big Water Coffee Roasters in Bayfield. In both cases, the business owners were ready to move on but did not have a clear exit strategy.
Established in 1985, Four Star Video is the only surviving independent video store in Madison. Four Star Video defied industry trends by cultivating a vast and unique film collection and building long-lasting customer relationships. In early 2013, after 10 years of ownership, Lisa Brennan expressed interest in exiting the business and by October the most likely option seemed to be liquidation. Motivated by the prospect of losing their jobs and seeing the impressive video collection sold off, four employees decided to explore their alternatives and ended up in UWCC’s offices. UWCC staff explained the cooperative business model and the conversion process, and walked the employees through their options for buying the store. Ten months later, with the help of an IndieGoGo campaign and a loan from Summit Credit Union, the employees purchased the business and formally converted it to a worker-owned cooperative. 
Business owners can also drive the conversion process. Big Water Coffee Roasters is a small batch, artisan coffee roaster with strong retail and wholesale markets and a bustling café in Bayfield. In 2014, when the founders of Big Water decided to move out of the area, it was clear they needed to find a way to keep the business in the community. They came across the idea of selling to the business to their employees and approached UWCC for help. UWCC walked the business owners through their options and met with some of the key employees who expressed interest in purchasing the business. The group moved quickly and in March 2015 Big Water Coffee officially converted to a worker-owned cooperative thanks to significant community support.
Our experience with cooperative conversions has taught us that most of these transitions involve a great deal of education well before any deal can be made. Most business owners and employees know very little about the cooperative structure or employee ownership in general, so one of UWCC’s primary roles is to provide both parties with the information they need to decide if a cooperative conversion is the right approach.
In the coming year, UWCC plans to continue educating employees and business owners about cooperative conversions and providing technical assistance to businesses that decide to take the plunge. UWCC is also engaged in efforts at the state and national levels to increase the number of cooperative conversions by raising awareness of the model and building capacity to support conversions. UWCC is a member of the newly formed Conversions Collaborative, a national group convened by the Democracy at Work Institute, and is working with several local partners, to launch a Wisconsin-based employee ownership center that would provide technical assistance during the conversion process, referrals to professional service providers such as attorneys and accountants, and peer networking opportunities for employee-owned businesses in the state.

Encouraging Peer Learning Between
Cooperative Directors

As the business world grows increasingly complex, an effective board is critical to a cooperative's success. In August 2015, the UW Center for Cooperatives (UWCC) tested a new format for delivering information on best practices in board leadership: an interactive roundtable that facilitated learning between a diverse range of cooperative board leaders. Topics included the role of the board chair and other leadership positions, facilitating effective meetings, strategies for good decision making processes and developing a more efficient board, and CEO review and succession planning. 
To read more about the Cooperative Board Leadership Roundtable see "Learning from Each Other" from the September/October 2015 Rural Cooperatives magazine.

In Brief: Updates and New Publications

The City of Madison Co-operative Business Initiative continues to move through the budgeting process. The Madison City Council will be asked to approve $600,000 in capital spending for 2016, and then $600,000 each year through 2020. This proposal by Madison Mayor Paul Soglin, is the largest amount any U.S. city has committed to cooperative development to date. UWCC is working with the local cooperative and labor community to develop a collaborative support system for successful cooperative business development that will be ready to implement the program in 2016.

Reviewing Wisconsin's Chapter 185 - UWCC staff are participating in meetings to review the Wisconsin state statute for cooperative incorporation, Chapter 185. Cooperative Network, the state association for cooperative businesses in Wisconsin and Minnesota, is working with its members, legal and accounting experts, and UWCC to identify sections of the law that may need to be updated, make recommendations for changes, and possibly draft new language. Issues that have been identified for review include outside director appointments/elections to the board, clarifying language about international memberships, and optional proportional voting for members similar to several other state cooperative statutes. The last comprehensive review of the statute was in 1985.

Small and Strong Conference: Securing Your Food Co-ops Future - UWCC is excited to co-sponsor this one-day networking and training event for staff and board of small and startup food co-ops. Click here for more information and to register.
New Publications

Learning and Training Tool for Understanding Worker Cooperative Finances - this tool has been developed for member education and board training about basic worker cooperative finance. Featuring a simplified, fictional worker-owned cafe and coffee shop, it allows users to explore the relationship between the primary financial statements that are used for business reporting and decision-making.
Celebrate Co-op Month with Cooperative Network's new animated short:
Co-ops are everywhere! Take Ownership.
Happy Co-op Month! 
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