Wedge Community Co-opwww.wedge.coop
This cooperative features an 11,000-square foot retail store, warehouse and 100-acre farm—all of which are certified organic. Employing approximately 280 people and comprising over 15,000 members, it remains rooted in its founding values, while also addressing emerging developments, such as fair trade, local purchasing and sustainability issues.
In addition to the people the Wedge employs directly, each year the cooperative issues a patronage refund to members. These refunds, which have totaled over $2,000,000 in the past two years, stay in the community. During the recent economic downturn, the organization neither raised prices nor laid off staff—and, as a result, membership steadily grew.
The Wedge also has a direct economic impact on the many producers and manufacturers who rely on it as a path to market. Not only does the cooperative hold down local suppliers’ transportation costs and make their products available both in the retail store and in local farmers markets, but it also keeps financial and natural resources circulating within the community.
UMassFive College Federal Credit Unionwww.umassfive.org
Originally serving only UMass employees and their family members, UMassFive has expanded to serve faculty, staff and students at four additional institutions nearby. Today, it operates as a full-service financial institution with four physical branches, a full-service call center and a robust online presence. With revenue of $16,300,000 in 2011, the organization’s $350,000,000 in assets helped it rank in the top 10 percent of credit unions nationally in terms of size.
At the end of 2011, UMassFive had $229 million in outstanding loans to members, balanced by $323 million in member deposits. In auto lending alone, UMassFive is the number two lender in its county, and ranked in the top five percent of lenders statewide (37th out of 777). UMassFive also offers no-interest loans to members operating local farms, and to members making qualified home energy conservation upgrades.
UMassFive adds to the social and intellectual capital of its community as well. For example, it has partnered to offer special financing to help members pursue advanced degrees or advance their careers as teachers by participating in educator licensure programs. It also offers comprehensive financial literacy resources, both online and through workshops, as well several programs designed specifically for college students.
Alternatives Federal Credit Unionwww.alternatives.org
Ithaca, New York
To serve its members and communities, Alternatives goes beyond traditional deposit and loan products. By offering a financial counseling and empowerment program, this transformational community resource helps individuals move from being mere customers of the financial system to owners of assets, such as homes and small businesses.
Alternatives has helped launch hundreds of small businesses, in part through a program in which staff work closely with loan officers to identify potential borrowers and provide one-on-one guidance. Would-be entrepreneurs can attend a 4- session Are You Ready for Business? class, while those who are ready to write business plans can participate in the more involved Getting Down to Business program.
Alternatives’ impact also comes from providing complementary community services—even during the recent economic downturn. For instance, its Volunteer Income Tax Preparation program keeps millions of dollars in the community in the form of tax refunds and Earned Income Tax Credits, while saving lowincome members hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax preparation fees.
Benton Rural Electric Associationwww.bentonrea.org
Like many cooperatives of its kind, Benton Rural Electric Association (BREA) was founded in the 1930s, when its focus was providing electricity to farming families in Benton, Yakima and Lewis Counties. Over the decades, BREA has expanded to purchase wholesale power through 20 delivery points, and now provides electrical service through 25 owned and operated substations.
In the mid 1990s, a new generation of technology was transforming individuals’ lives and the business world. In response, BREA launched PowerNET, featuring a variety of dial-up Internet access and technology services. As community needs evolved, BREA began offering broadband wireless, technology consulting, personal and business email, point-to-point circuit solutions, webpage hosting and other services.
In addition to providing 68 full-time jobs with competitive salaries and benefits, BREA’s economic impact extends far beyond. For example, the cooperative participates in numerous economic development boards and has spearheaded projects resulting in hundreds of new jobs, as well as numerous retained jobs. Meanwhile, its Revolving Loan Fund has provided the necessary gap financing needed for countless projects to move forward.