What can you do to bring economic development to your rural communities? Is it possible without large corporations or out of town investors that may not understand the needs of your community? Perhaps your community should consider investment cooperatives.
Local organizers in Meadville, Pennsylvania did. With a population of approximately 13,000, Meadville was seeing an uptick in small business development. Many of these businesses need capital upfront to convert space to meet their needs. With these issues in mind, the Northwest Pennsylvania Investment Cooperative (NWPIC), started organizing in 2016 and incorporated in the Summer of 2017.
The members of NWPIC came together so they could decide what their downtown would look like. They believe that local people can influence the future and development of their town - it doesn’t have to be large or out of town investors.
"Cooperatives, not competition"
"Cooperatives, not competition" are the way to develop a community, states Julie Wilson, PhD in their video showcasing Investment Cooperatives, a project made possible by a USDA Rural Development Socially Disadvantaged Groups Grant (SDGG).
Autumn Vogel, President of NWPIC and a cooperative development specialist at Keystone Development Center (KDC), invited NWPIC board members to attend KDC’s Cooperative Academy, a program partially funded by USDA Rural Development’s Rural Cooperative Development Grant (RCDG). The Co-op Academy program is tailored to address the unique challenges and highlight best practices of starting and managing a cooperative enterprise for emerging cooperative leaders.
NWPIC searches for affordable commercial properties to buy, renovate, and leases high quality commercial properties to local folks – all with a mission to accelerate their local economy and build up their community. Since the NWPIC is a for profit cooperative in Pennsylvania, the buildings they purchase stay on local tax rolls, and support the community. Nearly half of the properties in Meadville are tax exempt and not on property tax rolls, which puts a heavy burden on the finances of the local government. NWPIC made an intentional choice to contribute to the financial health of the community by creating taxable cooperatives. Investors, be they Pennsylvania residents, businesses, nonprofits, or other organizations, have an opportunity for a patient and modest return on their investment.
NWPIC’s first project was obtaining a commercial space for Blissful Meads, a local mead maker in Meadville. The Co-op purchased a vacant former law office in 2021 and members renovated the building throughout the winter. The production site, offices, and tasting room opened in June 2022.