The Cooperative Development Institute (CDI), has recently been awarded three grants totaling $589,974, from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to support cooperative development in Maine and the Northeast. For 24 years, CDI has been the Northeast’s center for cooperative development helping 141 groups form cooperatives in the food, housing, and employee ownership sectors.
Rural Community Development Initiative
CDI has been awarded a 2018 Rural Community Development Initiative grant to support the Rural Maine Cooperative Development Training and Technical Assistance Program which will deploy a two year “Train the Trainers” program for six recipient organizations in Androscoggin, Oxford and Washington County, Maine that will add new economic development skills and capacity that will enable their communities to expand access to food, jobs and housing through cooperative development.
Through the program, the recipient organizations in central Maine, which include immigrant and women led community organizations, will apply the skills and knowledge gleaned from CDI’s technical assistance trainings to increase the economic and social well-being of their communities.
In Washington County, Maine the two year program will expand Technical Assistance for private-to-employee ownership conversions through a training partnership with the Sunrise County Economic Council. “National studies show the largest single source of avoidable job loss is from business closings due to owner retirement, and the annual rate of retirement is projected to double over the next 20 years. The problem is much more acute here in Maine because the state has the oldest population in the country, and Washington County has the oldest population in Maine. USDA funding, with additional support from the JT Gorman Foundation, will allow CDI to launch The Ownership Transition Initiative which will partner with additional community-based organizations to provide the information and training to convert businesses in Washington County to employee ownership”, said Rob Brown, CDI’s Director of Business Ownership Solutions program.
These projects will grow community wealth through cooperative ownership. Organizations receiving CDI training will assist their communities in undertaking cooperative solutions to community and economic challenges. “We are very excited to have received this funding. It will allow CDI to use or expertise in training community based organizations in cooperative development skills and procedures and apply that learning to their work with members of their communities and continue with these development strategies after the program concludes”, said Jonah Fertig-Burd, Director of CDI’s Cooperative Food Systems Program.
Rural Cooperative Development Grant
CDI also received a $200,000 USDA Rural Cooperative Development Grant to address the difficult economic conditions in rural Maine and Northeast communities which are evidenced by persistently high levels of unemployment and underemployment; poverty and low incomes; opioid addiction; youth out-migration in search of economic opportunity; decline of traditional farm, forest and fisheries enterprises; and the shuttering of locally-owned businesses along Main Street and coastal waterfronts.
“The stock market may be at an all time high, but many communities in the rural Northeast are struggling, and many are being left behind. This funding will allow CDI to continue to assist rural communities in the Northeast in advancing economic security and prosperity by creating and retaining locally owned businesses. We know cooperative development and democratic ownership models work across all sectors to improve economic outcomes”, said Noemi Giszpenc, CDI’s Executive Director. “This important source of funding will allow CDI staff to work with economically challenged rural communities to develop solutions that are locally grounded in self-reliance and employee ownership”, she added.
Socially Disadvantaged Groups Grant
Additional support of $174,973 from the USDA’s Socially Disadvantaged Groups Grant program. CDI’s Northeast New American and People of Color Rural Economic Initiative will allow CDI to continue our important work in developing cooperatively owned enterprises with socially disadvantaged people in Maine and the Northeast. The project will assist communities of color and New Americans to access markets and resources and to develop leadership, networks, and skills by forming, owning, and operating cooperatively structured businesses including farms, food trucks, and food system businesses.
CDI’s experience working with New Americans in ME, NH, VT and MA has shown that cooperative businesses are a powerful tool for these rural socially disadvantaged communities to increase economic opportunity and prosperity and meet basic needs and improve their quality of life by overcoming socio-economic hurdles. Through this project, CDI will help marginalized communities to grow new food and farm businesses in three rural areas: Lewiston, ME, the CT River Valley in MA and CT, and Upstate NY. This important project will serve 136 people in ten cooperative groups who are working to develop vegetable, livestock, food truck and composting businesses.
Participants in this program will move through tiered training levels of cooperative development provided by CDI staff. New Americans and People of Color will learn how cooperatives provide access to jobs, markets, products and services, equipment, facilities, and land. They will learn how to access public and private resources for business development, and learn how a cooperatively structured business operates and effects change within their local community and the broader economy. Successful Maine cooperatives that have been established with this important source of funding include the New Roots Cooperative Farm, and the Isuken Co-op in Lewiston.
CDI’s work in Maine is also supported by the Broad Reach Fund, Elmina B. Sewall Foundation, and the Maine Community Foundation.