Led by the likes of Central Alberta Co-op, The Co-operators and Servus Credit Union, member-owned co-operatives are a big part of the local economy.
Alberta Community & Co-operative Association (ACCA) has even greater aspirations. It wants co-ops to become the province’s fastest-growing form of enterprise by the end of this decade.
This objective will be a focus of Gathering of Alberta Co-operatives 2013, a conference planned for Red Deer Nov. 1 and 2. Co-op officials, employees and members will hear success stories and discuss how best to build upon the co-operative movement.
“The co-op sector is growing,” said Dan Ohler, a co-op development specialist who is working with ACCA. “There is becoming greater interest — not only in the public eye but also within government departments — of how the co-op sector can grow and create that sustainability and public engagement where people are taking control of their own destiny and their local economies using this co-op model.”
Simply put, a co-operative is a member-owned business, with those members able to use its services. It can be for-profit or non-profit, and if the former, its members share in the profit.
The International Co-operative Alliance recently adopted a Blueprint for a Co-operative Decade. It sets out a strategy for co-ops to become the world’s fastest growing form of enterprise, as well as the business model preferred by people and the acknowledged leader in economic, social and environmental sustainability by 2020.
Gatherings 2013 will help pursue these objectives in Alberta, said Ohler.
The conference follows Gatherings 2012, which was held in Red Deer last November in recognition of the United Nations declaring 2012 the International Year of Co-operatives. Attendees brainstormed ideas for increasing the presence and impact of co-ops, and it was decided to repeat the event.
“We just had really positive feedback last year from participants,” said Ohler.
This year’s conference will draw upon the expertise of those involved with successful co-operatives, he said.
“We’ve got a ton of Alberta co-ops that have done extremely well throughout history, so we’re going to tap into some of the people who are board members and executives from those co-ops, as well as from some of the new ones that are being created.”
Participants will hear about “opportunity development co-ops,” which are created so that community members can address local needs. Current projects include a historical building in Blairmore that’s been renovated into retail and residential space, and 55-plus housing in Smoky River.
“The key piece for an opportunity development co-op is, rather than going to traditional financing institutions, it’s local people who invest their own money into the co-op, which then invests in the business,” said Ohler.
The concept works well, he said, because they allow people to work together to meet community needs.
Co-operatives have a much broader potential than most people realize, said Ohler.
“Almost any case where there’s a business venture, a co-op model can be applied,” he said, pointing to the continuation of businesses with aging owners as a good example.
“This is a way for local people to help with that transition process and help to get young entrepreneurs into those businesses.”
Co-op ownership can also be an effective way to start or expand a business, said Ohler.
Everyone is welcome to attend Gathering 2013.
“This gathering is a way to help people to really understand what it’s about and how they can be engaged and how they can have some control over their own local destiny.”
The cost to attend Gathering 2013, which will take place at the Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites in Gasoline Alley, is $199 for both days and or $119 for one. Registration information will be posted online at www.acca.coop.