(Editor’s Note: Jesse Culp’s Corner was a long running column in the Advertiser-Gleam in the 1980s and 90s. This one comes from October of 1999. October is always observed as Co-op Month by the various rural utility co-ops.)
Cooperatives are generally organized by folks who have difficulty obtaining products or services at a reasonable cost from profit-minded business so they go into business for themselves.
One of the most familiar examples of this is our electric co-ops. They serve rural areas here and all over the country.
In the 1930s and 1940s, for-profit electric companies were lighting up American homes for the first time. But they passed over the sparsely populated farming communities, where it would cost more to provide power because there were fewer people to buy it.
By the 1930s, people living in towns and cities generally enjoyed lights and other benefits of electricity. Most of their rural neighbors were still in the dark.
First the government offered special subsidies to for-profit companies if they would build lines and electrify the rural areas. But most of the companies were still not interested. They felt it would not be profitable for them and their stockholders.
So the rural residents organized, chipped in and asked the federal government for loans to build their own electrical distribution systems. They formed them as cooperatives so that each customer would be an owner.
I know all this from personal experience. I lived several miles out of town on a sparsely populated road where the power company would not run a line. Not until an electric co-op was formed could we have electric lights, refrigerators and other such conveniences for modern living. What a grand day it was when those first electric lights came on!
More than 100 million Americans belong to 47,000 co-ops that also specialize in child care, credit, farm and garden supplies and numerous other services.
I salute them and thank them during Cooperative Month and all year long.