Cooperatives: A benefit to rural towns

Pure Nebraska
Published: Oct. 28, 2022 at 2:27 PM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - National Cooperative Month is a chance to look more closely at the benefits cooperatives bring to small towns around the state of Nebraska.

We caught up with Frontier Cooperative CEO Jeremy Wilhelm to talk about this topic of how cooperatives give back, and build economic power. “Most of our facilities are in small town Nebraska,” Wilhelm said. “If there’s not a hospital or a school district in those towns, then generally, we are going to be the largest employer in those towns. The vast majority of our employees live in the communities they work in.”

Cooperatives bring good jobs to rural Nebraska, and it’s not just operations jobs anymore. “We have bankers on staff, we have accountants on staff, we have marketing people on staff, generally any function a normal business would have, we are going to have that at the cooperative level,” Wilhelm said. “We’ve got great benefits, too. We always talk about the dollar of payroll. We have 425 employees that have a $25 Million payroll. We talk about those dollars of payroll, and in those local towns, those dollars get turned over seven times. Our employees get a paycheck, they go get a haircut, the haircut owner buys groceries, the grocery store buys insurance, and most all of that takes place locally.”

Many people who work at cooperatives are in leadership roles in their communities. “It’s great to see that, and we encourage that,” Wilhelm said. “It helps build the community. The workers have pride in their towns, they volunteer in 4H, FFA, and parades.”

“A unique thing we have is a defined pension or benefit plan for our employees,” Wilhelm said. “It allows our employees to retire and have a paycheck for life. Most of our employees retire in the communities they are living in and working in today. So, the economic benefit lasts well beyond their employment, and into their retirement years. Being a farmer-owned cooperative, 100% of our profits stay local. We are either reinvesting back into the facilities to meet the farmers’ needs, or we are investing back into our employees with payroll. Or, we are paying patronage and dividends back to our farmer-owned members who are doing business with us.”