by Maria Fernandes-Dominique

After months of careful research and writing, CDI is excited to share with all stakeholders a comprehensive 8-page report highlighting cooperatives and employee-owned enterprises as the most successful workforce development solution for sustaining Maine’s economy into the future.

The report’s authors, Rob Brown, CDI’s Director of Business Solutions, Jonah Fertig-Burd, CDI’s Director of Cooperative Food Systems and Davis Taylor, Ph.D, Professor of Economics at the College of the Atlantic, begin the report by painting a picture of the cooperative movement worldwide. In their research, they discovered that Finland has the highest proportion of cooperatives, with 17% of the workforce employed by cooperatives and 84% of Finns joining at least one cooperative as members. Emilia Romagna, a region in Northern Italy, is also a worldwide leader in supporting cooperatives. The region sustains 8,000 cooperatives, including the largest concentration of employee-owned businesses in the world, that produce 13% of the region’s GDP. Household wealth is 30% higher than the national average, and the region creates patents at nearly three times the national rate.

Within the United States, the authors note that the cooperative movement took shape as a response to the Great Depression. They detail that much of rural America gained access to electricity for the first time through rural electric cooperatives. Such cooperatives still serve three-quarters of the nation’s geographical area, and 13% of our population, including the Eastern Maine Electric Cooperative which serves most of Downeast Maine.

Locally, Maine has had a lengthy history of supporting many types of cooperatives. One strong example that the authors provide is the Stonington Lobster Co-op which has been in operation since 1948. Currently, the company includes 650 members. All together, 22 lobster co-ops land over 30 million pounds a year, nearly 30 percent of the state’s catch in its leading ocean industry. Local credit unions have also been a staple of cooperatives in Maine since regulations changed in the 1990s. Today, 60 member-owned credit unions in Maine have 692,000 members, $8 billion in assets and $7 billion in deposits, and have provided a safe, secure way for Mainers to access financial services, build equity and reinvest in their own communities.

The authors go on to explain that even as Maine’s most pressing needs have evolved, cooperatives and employee owned-enterprises continue to be the go-to solution for sustaining the economy. They highlight the following as the new wave of cooperatives and employee owned-enterprises:

  • New Roots Cooperative Farm, a producer cooperative that has grown rapidly since its start in 2017 on 30 acres
  • Belfast Co-op, a grocery store and deli/café that has helped anchor the local community
  • The Wardtown Mobile Home Cooperative, formed in 2015, that provides 60 families with long-term security and home ownership
  • Raise-Op Housing Cooperative, which purchases apartment buildings and turns them into resident-owned co-ops that serve the needs of long-time community members and new Mainers
  • Rock City Employee Cooperative, a café and coffee roasting business and an example of a successful worker-owned conversion

The authors conclude by making the strong case that cooperative and employee-owned enterprises will continue to grow and thrive in Maine because they offer such an attractive option for existing business owners to exit and retire, and for young entrepreneurs who want to start new businesses. However, for cooperative and employee-owned enterprises to be fully utilized, there needs to be support from citizens and the Maine legislature on the following bills:

  • LD 1520:
    • An Act to Create and Sustain Jobs through Development of Cooperatives and Employee-owned Businesses
    • Establish a Maine Employee Ownership Center
  • LD 1305: Encourage Savings through Contributions to Family Development Accounts

CDI is proud to have supported the research and writing of this report and excited for the opportunity to bring this vital information to you. We encourage you to read the full report by following this link and ask that you reach out to your elected officials in the Maine legislature and ask them to support the bills listed above. We count on your partnership to secure the economic health of Maine workers, families and communities.

Owning Maine’s Future- Opportunities and Policies for Growing a Cooperative Economy in Maine