Co-op Grants Awarded

University of Wisconsin - River Falls

May 10, 1996

Minnesota Co-ops Get CDI Grants

The Minnesota Agro-Forestry Cooperative and the Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership have been selected by the Cooperative Development Initiative at UW-River Falls to receive specialized training and technical assistance over the next couple years.

The Minnesota Agro-Forestry Cooperative is a fledgling farmer-owned co-op organized to evaluate the commercial potential of providing hybrid poplar trees as feedstock for the pulp and wood products manufacturing industries. Current farmer/members are located in central Minnesota from Willmar to Alexandria to Mora.

Plans call for the co-op to provide growers with inputs, negotiate purchase contracts with major manufacturers, supply management assistance and education to grower-members, and ultimately provide harvesting services for its members. Hybrid poplars are seen as a good alternative crop for marginal farm land, and are deemed a good substitute for native aspen. Assisting with a feasibility study, business plan and board training are among the types of assistance the Co-op will receive from the Cooperative Development Initiative.

Alleviating the shortage of safe, sanitary, affordable housing in southwest Minnesota is the goal of the Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership, located in Slayton, Minn. The organization, which serves 14 counties, is the collaborative brainchild of the Prairie Five Community Action Council, Montevideo; Western Community Action, Inc., Marshall; Southwestern Minnesota Opportunity Council, Worthington; and the Southwest Regional Development Commission, Slayton.

Begun in 1993, the SWMHP spent its first two years responding to housing shortages exacerbated by severe flooding and tornadoes in the region. Strategic planning and board training are among the kinds of assistance the Partnership requested of the Cooperative Development Initiative as it embarks on a more deliberate course of action.

Projects selected for assistance in 1995 have made significant progress toward their goals, reported Linda Jacobson, associate director of the Cooperative Development Initiative.

"We have been working with the St. Croix Valley Regional Tourism Alliance and the Northwest Minnesota Development Achievement Center Cooperative over the last year, assisting them with strategic planning, marketing, grantwriting, financial analysis, and board training."

The St. Croix Valley Regional Tourism Alliance, a consortium of Wisconsin and Minnesota communities along the lower St. Croix River, unveiled their "ASK US" Guide during National Tourism Week in early May. The Guide is a data base of tourism related information from 19 member communities in Dakota, Washington and Chisago counties in Minnesota, and Pierce, Polk and St. Croix counties in Wisconsin.

The Alliance is selling the Guides for $30, which includes sales tax. Businesses who have the Guide will display a window decal encouraging tourists to ask questions about anything from attractions to lodging to recreation to retail opportunities in the Valley.

Eight rural Developmental Achievement Centers (DACs) located in the northwestern corner of Minnesota have formed a cooperative to improve services to their clients and to enhance their own financial stability. By working together, the eight DACs will be better able to secure large work contracts for their clients, train their staffs, hire consultants for specialized therapy, and cooperatively purchase goods and services at better prices. DACs provide day services to mildly to severely developmentally disabled adults.

Assisting start-up cooperative and collaborative ventures in Minnesota and Wisconsin is the goal of the Cooperative Development Initiative, a project funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls Rural Development Institute.

The cooperative model is one way that small communities who face similar challenges and dwindling resources can address their common problems. In addition to working with projects on a local level, the Cooperative Development Initiative is also helping to increase the capacity of other rural universities in the country promote the use of the cooperative model as a means to address rural development concerns.

For additional information about the Cooperative Development Initiative and how projects are selected to receive assistance, contact Jacobson or David Trechter, at the RDI Building, UW-RF, 410 South 3rd Street, River Falls, WI 54022; or telephone 715/425-0671 or 715/425-3129.

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