The Cooperative Difference

Twenty-four years ago, a member of Todd-Wadena Electric Cooperative called to ask if he could put my name on the ballot to serve as cooperative director and I said, “No.” I had other things to do, other interests, and thought it would take too much time. He could have accepted that answer and hung up the phone, but he did not. He spent the next hour talking to me about the cooperative and the need to be involved. He would not accept my answer of “no.”

In the 1940s, when rural America wanted electricity and the power companies with a profit motive rather than service motive said “no,” that answer was also not accepted. It was during this time that our nation’s electric cooperatives were formed. Neighbors started talking to neighbors about not only signing up for power, but helping to build lines.

An early cooperative from which we get some of our guiding principles started in Rochdale, England in 1844. They wanted better than the company store that kept them in debt and provided inferior products – products with fillers that would increase weight and profit but reduce quality. The customers would not accept that situation, so they started a store with five items: butter, sugar, flour, oatmeal, and candles. They were soon known for their high-quality products. Those founding members were visionaries who put quality service, and betterment of society, ahead of profits.

For a close-to-home example of the cooperative advantage, I need go no further than my local phone company West Central Telephone. Years ago, West Central brought fiber optic cable to homes in their service area – including mine. Our internet service was, and still is, far superior to that provided only a few miles away by the for-profit companies. Some of you are currently looking forward to being connected to that improved service that they provide, as they expand outside their original service territory. That small phone company out of Sebeka would not accept the service quality provided by others and set out to be better.

October is National Cooperative Month, a time to reflect on the many cooperative businesses in the community that provide us services with a different business model – one that is more about service than profit and focuses on giving back to the community.

Here at Todd-Wadena Electric Cooperative, our Operation Round Up program is just one example of a service that provides financial support to many service groups in our communities. By electing our board members from among our membership, we also support the cooperative principle of democratic member control. This means people from within our community are responsible for making decisions about how the cooperative is run.

So, let’s say “yes” to cooperatives that strive to improve our communities!

Dale Adams // TWEC Board Treasurer