In hundreds of rural communities, residents have no way to obtain fresh food without long, costly drives that also can be dangerous in winter months. In countless cities, real estate leases are rising so fast that residents are being displaced and those without substantial wealth are denied opportunities to enter
These situations are just two among many where traditional private investment is unlikely to help and the required capital makes traditional cooperatives impractical. But from the remote town of Lodge Pole on Montana’s Fort
What Is a Community-Owned Business (COB)?
Community-owned businesses (COBs) include a range of
AMIBA’s new initiative, the Center for Community Ownership, helps people create for-profit community-owned corporations. These are traditional business structures, but ownership and control
Though COBs provide much promise for urban neighborhoods, many early efforts have started rural “food deserts” where depopulation or/and large chain stores some distance away have driven out small-town grocers, leaving residents with no place in town to buy fresh food or other necessities. Many stores opened thus far are in states where winter storms can isolate residents and compel hazardous trips.
Sourcing from local farmers and other entrepreneurs is one key way community-based businesses build positive impact. Brattleboro, VT coop pictured.
In many such places, community ownership can be a game-changer because it shifts people’s consciousness. Shopping decisions no longer are just a choice between leaving town to the big store vs buying locally, but the opportunity for residents to buy from their own store.
The number of shares each COB investor may purchase usually is limited to ensure decisions reflect the interests of the community and prevent dependence on any one person. Community-owned stores have the additional benefit of tending to favor buying local products (and can write such preferences into their mission), broadening economic opportunity, increasing the local multiplier effect to build local wealth.
Are COBs Different from Cooperatives?
While COBs encompass cooperatives, most coops are operated primarily to benefit members who pay a small fee, rather than invest significant capital. A community-owned store typically will pay dividends to shareholders if profit is generated. A for-profit COB is well-suited to attract larger investments from some residents, enabling more capital-intensive businesses.*
We fully support
Along with real estate trusts and grocery stores, COBs are well suited to fill other community needs, including local media, general stores, child care, and a range of health services.
Can COBs Prevent Needed Businesses CLOSURES?
Yes! COBs are not just a tool to fill areas of need — they are a tool to enable residents to buy a business that provides an essential service in cases where the current owners are selling or closing. There are countless business owners across the country without succession plans, putting towns or neighborhoods at risk of losing crucial services, jobs
How TO Create a COB
The Center for Community Ownership (CCO) has assembled a team of nationally-recognized experts with expertise in managing legal, financial, and business planning, along with economic analysis work required to create COBs. We now are inviting inquiries from communities interested in starting a COB and offering a free assessment. Please contact CCO Director Andrew Connor to learn more.
Once you make contact, we will perform
Many support systems exist for traditional cooperatives BUT no support system exists to help people start community-owned businesses in North America. AMIBA is currently seeking funding to establish a Center for Community Ownership. This would enable and promote these models as tools to solve problems on a local level and increase community wealth. The Center will identify best practices, common challenges, and resources for creating community-owned businesses to share with communities nationwide.
How to Feed the Masses in Small-town
How to Launch a Community-Owned Store 2012 (pdf)
Communities Saving Cherished Stores July 2009
Town Working Together to Carry Groceries November 2008
Communities Create Their Own Stores May 2005
Thanks to Amy Campbell Bogie of the National Coalition for Community Capital for interviewing many of the businesses above.
Joshua Bloom, who has blogged on this topic, identifies four broad structures of community-controlled business:
Cooperative: A communally owned and managed business, operated for the benefit of its members.
Community-owned corporation: A traditional, for-profit corporation that integrates social enterprise principles.
Small ownership group: A small, ad hoc investor group that capitalizes and/or operates a business as a partnership or closely-held corporation.
Investment fund: A community-based fund that invests debt or equity in local business ventures.
Community Owned Pubs are on the rise in the UK
A Cooperative Entrepreneurship Curriculum (Canada, 2016)
Keeping Wealth Local: Shared Ownership and Wealth Control For Rural Communities (Ford Foundation, 2009)
Strategies for Financing the Inclusive Economy (Democracy Collaborative, 2016)
To learn about the hundreds of traditional member-funded grocery co-ops visit:
Both urban areas and rural towns are exploring community ownership models as a solution to food deserts. Other alternative business models employed to bring groceries to under-served areas include:
The Seward Coop in Minneapolis provides an interesting study (2016 article) in ensuring a coop serves the needs of a diverse working-class population.
Please tell us of examples we’ve missed!