2nd Bi-Annual Cooperative Law Conference Will Offer Professionals Opportunity to Learn About the Co-op Economy

Conference registration table.

The 2nd Bi-Annual Cooperative Law Conference convened by Advocates for Basic Legal Equity and co-sponsored by the CFAES Center for Cooperatives will be held online on June 5, 2020.

The CFAES Center for Cooperatives is pleased to be co-sponsoring the 2nd Bi-Annual Cooperative Law Conference in our region on June 5, 2020. The virtual conference will be organized around the theme, “The Legal Life of a Cooperative,” and will feature attorneys and developers sharing their expertise on worker co-op start-ups and transitions, cooperative financing, and regional cooperative development strategies. Attorneys, aspiring-attorneys, and others who are interested in learning more about cooperatives and collaborative enterprises will surely find value in the conference’s eight sessions featuring twelve speakers.

The CFAES Center for Cooperatives, along with the Sustainable Economies Law Center, Alliance of Ohio Legal Aids, and Legal Aid of Western Ohio, are sponsoring the event, which will focus on regional efforts in southwest Ohio, but will be applicable across geographies. Attorneys in Ohio will be able to receive up to five hours of CLE credit for the conference (application pending). Registration for the event is $60.

Co-sponsoring the event is another way the Center is helping to build the community of professionals who support cooperatives in our region. In 2019, the Center surveyed attorneys, accountants, and tax professionals who work with cooperative and collaborative enterprises, building a directory to help the cooperative community locate such expertise. Visit the Center’s Cooperative and Collaborative Enterprises Legal and Accounting Directory.

Broad Thinking: Why the co-op model could be a key to closing the broadband gap

An individual working at a computer.

The current public health crisis has moved many of life’s daily tasks online. Without reliable internet, some rural communities are at risk of being left behind.

The impacts of the COVID-19 public health emergency are vast and varied. While we recognize and thank the many people who continue to do the essential jobs of feeding, moving, and caring for America in person, many Americans are now working, learning, and connecting online. Everyday tasks like work meetings, classes, grocery shopping, religious services, doctor’s appointments, hangouts with friends, and more, have moved online. But what happens when you don’t have reliable internet access at home? Millions of rural Americans faced this question long before the current public health crisis and in our current context, the broadband divide between urban and rural America has become more pronounced than ever.

Connected Nation Ohio, an organization that studies and provides resources for rural broadband connection, estimates that approximately 710,000 Ohioans do not have internet access at home. That doesn’t include people who have internet access that is unreliable or prohibitively slow. The Federal Communications Commission estimates that almost 30 million Americans are “unable to reap the benefits of the digital age.” In 2017, the Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity recognized the expansion of high-speed, high-capacity internet as a key infrastructure priority in rural America. Beth Ford, Chief Executive Officer of Land O’ Lakes, one of the nation’s largest farmer-owned cooperatives, has highlighted the far-reaching effects of the problem and called for significant infrastructure investments in broadband, reminding people that, “there is a shared destiny between urban and rural America.”

Cooperatives are not new to problem-solving on behalf of rural Americans. According to the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, in the mid-1930’s as many as 90% of rural homes lacked electricity. By 1953, more than 90% of America’s farms had electricity. This transformation was the result of the rapid growth of rural electric cooperatives, which currently provide electricity to 56% of the nation’s landmass and over 20 million member-owners. Co-ops are owned and controlled by their users and provide services to member-owners at cost. Today, nearly 100 rural electric cooperatives are investing in infrastructure to bring high speed internet to their member-owners.

In some communities, the cooperative model is being explored anew to determine whether a community-owned enterprise can help close the broadband gap. Groups are coming together to assess whether they can form cooperatives to invest in the infrastructure to connect their homes and businesses to broadband service providers. The enterprises would be controlled by community members through an elected board of directors.

Community members in Washington County, Ohio have begun exploring options for a community-owned broadband enterprise. David Brown, who is leading the Southeast Ohio Broadband Cooperative Exploratory along with additional volunteers from the community, explains, “Most areas have no broadband access at all and rely on slow, expensive and unreliable technologies like cellular hotspots and satellite internet.” After conversations with elected leaders, local economic developers, and others, the group surveyed the community about their current broadband access and interest in joining a broadband co-op. They started engaging with community members via a Facebook group where they share updates and information. The group has over 925 members after just three weeks. While they have a lot of work ahead to develop their co-op, David Brown shares that the group’s vision is to, “bring affordable, reliable broadband access to rural areas in SE Ohio that will create economic opportunities, connect communities and encourage members to be a part of the solution to a problem that has long plagued the area.”

When exploring a cooperative model in any industry, it is vital to explore the feasibility of an enterprise and to develop robust business plans. At the same time, organizers should educate their potential members on the co-op model and help them understand their role in a newly formed business. The College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences Center for Cooperatives at Ohio State has been assisting new and emerging cooperatives since 2001, helping groups understand the co-op model, explore the feasibility of a new co-op, develop the business plans and structure for a new enterprise, and more.

If you would like to learn more about broadband cooperatives or to explore an opportunity for community-owned enterprises in your community, contact the CFAES Center for Cooperatives!

COVID-19 Resources for Small Businesses

OSU South Centers located in Piketon, Ohio.

The OSU South Centers’ Business Development Network is prepared to help small businesses virtually.

Remember We’re Here to Help

The OSU South Centers Business Development Network continues to be available to help your small business. Our development specialists are working remotely and are available to meet virtually to assist your business.

Small Business Development Center (SBDC)

Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP)

CFAES Center for Cooperatives

Stay in Touch with Customers Remotely Using Online Tools

Businesses of all shapes and sizes can use technology to inform and stay in touch with customers. If you have had changes to your hours, location, contact information, or you simply want to communicate with your customers, consider updating your Google My Business profile or sharing updates or hosting events for your customer community online using Facebook, Instagram, or other online tools.

Utilize Free or Enhanced Capability Tech for Remote Working

If you or members of your team are shifting to remote work, a number of technology providers are expanding capabilities for their current customers for free or are making their platforms available at no cost for a limited time. GoToMeeting has released Emergency Remote Work Kits for current LogMeIn customers and other eligible institutions and organizations,  Google is granting free access to expanded capabilities for G Suite customersMicrosoft offers a free version of their Teams collaboration platform and is expanding free access to Teams, and Cisco has expanded the capabilities on their free Webex offer and is providing free 90-day licenses to businesses who are not Webex customers.

Get some tips on ensuring a successful transition to remote work:

For more information about collaboration tools offered in response to the public health situation, check out this article from ZDNet.

Small Business Administration (SBA) Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL)

The SBA EIDL program can provide loans of up to $2 million to small businesses, small agricultural cooperatives, and most private nonprofits that are unable to meet obligations and pay ordinary and necessary operating expenses due to a recognized economic disaster. Loan amounts are based on actual economic injury and financial need. Please note that EIDLs require repayment and that EIDL is not a grant program. Terms will be determined on a case by case basis.

Ohio was declared a disaster zone under the EIDL program on Thursday, March 19, 2020 effective beginning January 31, 2020.  Businesses can learn about the process for applying for EIDL assistance, gather loan application materials, and apply online if they think they will qualify for and require EIDL assistance. Required application materials will include:

  • Completed SBA Business Loan Application
  • Tax information authorization form for the applicant, principals, and affiliates
  • Copies of the most recently filed federal income tax return, including all schedules
  • Personal financial statements for the applicant, each principal, or general partner
  • Schedule of liabilities listing all fixed debt

Assistance for Exporters

The Small Business Administration (SBA) Export Express loan program is available for U.S. small businesses that export directly overseas or indirectly by selling to a customer that then exports their product. The Export Express loan program can provide up to $500,000 of financing for businesses prior to finalizing an export sale or while pursuing opportunities overseas, such as identifying a new overseas customer if an export sale is lost due to the coronavirus pandemic. Explore information on SBA’s COVID-19 small business loan resources.

IRS Federal Income Tax Payment Relief

The IRS has announced payment relief measures for individuals and businesses that owe federal income tax. Note that this payment relief applies only to federal income tax payments and does not apply to payments of state taxes or other federal taxes.

The income tax payment deadline for individuals, including self-employed income, is being automatically extended to July 15, 2020 for up to $1 million of a taxpayer’s 2019 tax due.

The income tax payment deadline for C Corporations is being automatically extended until July 15, 2020 for up to $10 million of the corporation’s 2019 tax due.

Also, note that recent reports indicate that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has announced that the federal income tax filing deadline will be delayed to July 15, 2020.

Unemployment Benefits and Employee Leave

An executive order issued by Ohio Governor Mike DeWine has expanded flexibility for Ohioans to receive unemployment benefits during the state’s emergency declaration period. Learn more about coronavirus and unemployment insurance benefits from the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services.

On March 18, 2020, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R. 6201) became law with provisions for paid sick leave for employees affected by COVID-19, expanded coverage of the Family and Medical Leave Act for absences related to COVID-19, and certain tax credits to help offset the costs of paid leave requirements, among other provisions. Learn more about the Families First Coronavirus Response Act in, “Time to Hit Pause: What Employers Need to Know About Yesterday’s Families First Coronavirus Response Act,” from Forbes.

Please note that if you have questions about your legal requirements as an employer, you should consult a human resources or legal professional.

Keeping Your Workplace Safe

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has information to help employers address the coronavirus pandemic, including guidance on preparing various workplaces for COVID-19, preventing worker exposure to the virus, and more. To see all of the COVID-19 information from OSHA, click here.

Guidance for Businesses and Employers from the CDC

In response to COVID-19, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that employers and businesses:

  • Actively encourage sick employees to stay home
  • Separate and send home sick employees
  • Emphasize staying home when sick, respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene by all employees
  • Perform routine environmental cleaning
  • Advise employees before traveling to take certain steps

Note that if an employee is confirmed to have COVID-19, employers should inform fellow employees of their possible exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace, but maintain confidentiality as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine has requested that Ohio employers ask their employees to check their temperature before coming to work. Stay up to date on Ohio’s Public Health Orders and COVID-19 response at coronavirus.ohio.gov.

Other Helpful Resources for Small Businesses

CFAES Center for Cooperatives kicks off Appalachia Cooperates Initiative

A group of individuals interested in growing co-op culture in central Appalachia filled the meeting room March 22 at the West Virginia State University Economic Development Center in Charleston, WV when the Ohio State University CFAES Center for Cooperatives hosted the inaugural meeting of the Appalachia Cooperates Initiative.  The group ranged from farmers and small business owners, to attorneys, credit unions, and cooperative business development agencies.

Featured speakers included Dr. J. Todd Nesbitt, Professor in the Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Geography at Pennsylvania’s Lock Haven University and Leslie Schaller, one of the founding members of Casa Nueva, a successful worker-owned restaurant cooperative and also the Director of Programs at the Appalachian Center for Economic Networks (ACEnet) in Athens, Ohio.  Nesbitt, who has studied and developed a course on sustainability in Appalachia, shared “A Case for Economic Distributism in West Virginia.”  Schaller shared the history and development of Casa Nueva and insights on the success of the cooperative business.

Participants also heard from Gail Patton, Executive Director and Ursulette Huntley, Program Director at Unlimited Future, Inc., a non-for-profit microenterprise development center and business incubator, who shared their experience with the development of one of West Virginia’s first non-agriculture cooperatives.

During lunchtime, attendees viewed the film, Shift Change, and learned about worker-owned co-ops not far from the Appalachian region and around the world.  “Seeing how a worker-owned co-op can empower members of a community and provide jobs and economic growth for an area helped to spark some ideas among those in attendance,” said Joy Bauman, program coordinator at the OSU CFAES Center for Cooperatives.

Daniel Eades, West Virginia University Rural Economics Extension Specialist and Michael Dougherty, West Virginia University Community Resources and Economic Development Extension Specialist led a discussion about challenges with developing businesses in Central Appalachia, ways Appalachian communities are uniquely positioned to develop businesses, and what resources and tools work well in Central Appalachia’s environment.  This activity led to much discussion and discovery of ways those interested in growing the cooperative culture in Central Appalachia can network to assist each other and share solutions.

OSU CFAES Center for Cooperatives program manager Hannah Scott spoke about resources and technical assistance offered by the Center and encouraged participants to stay connected and consider becoming involved on a regular basis with the Appalachia Cooperates Initiative group.  “Getting cooperative-minded people together to connect and learn from each other’s experiences will help them build a network that fosters cooperative business,” Scott explained.

Scott said that the CFAES Center for Cooperatives will soon be planning another activity for those interested in the Appalachia Cooperates Initiative, and that she hopes to hold quarterly events for the group over the coming year.  If you are interested in developing co-op culture in Central Appalachia, for more information, or to be added to the Appalachia Cooperates Initiative email list to be notified about upcoming events, contact Joy Bauman at 740-289-2071 ext. 111 or email bauman.67@osu.edu.

Appalachia Cooperates Grows Co-op Culture

Q: How can Extension professionals, business and community developers build a brighter future, robust local economies, and living wage job opportunities in Appalachia?​

A: Worker-ownership.​

Worker-owned cooperatives, defined by two advocates of the model as, “values-driven businesses that put worker and community benefit at the core of their purpose . . . [in which] workers participate in the profits, oversight, and, to varying degrees, the management of the organization, using democratic practices,” (Hoover & Abell 2016).​

The Center for Cooperatives and partners are growing co-op culture in Appalachia! Join us on March 22, 2019 at West Virginia State University Economic Development Center in Charleston.

Check back soon for registration details!

References

Hoover, M. & Abell, H. (2016). The Cooperative Growth Ecosystem: Inclusive Economic Development in Action. Project Equity and the Democracy at Work Institute.

Join the CFAES Center for Cooperatives at the West Virginia Small Farm Conference in Charleston on Saturday, February 16th.

The Center for Cooperatives presents United We Farm: Cooperative Solutions for WV Ag Producers.

Learn more and register at https://extension.wvu.edu/conferences/small-farm-conference

Session description: West Virginians across the state are exploring the cooperative businesses model as a solution to the challenges that many farmers face – access to markets, aggregating larger volumes of products, and saving time and resources. Do you think a cooperative might offer a solution for your farm or community? Learn about how West Virginia farmers are using the co-op model and how to explore a co-op for your community. Service providers – Extension educators, community developers, and agvocates – may also find this session a great opportunity to learn about the model and about resources that they can integrate into their work.

OSU Professional Services for Collaborative Enterprises Survey

The Center for Cooperatives in the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University is working on a project to assess the professional legal, accounting, and tax services available to cooperative and collaborative businesses in Ohio and West Virginia.

The goals of the project are twofold.

  • First, using information collected from an online survey, the Center will create a directory of professionals who provide services to cooperatives and collaborative enterprises.
  • Second, the Center will use online survey responses to better understand professionals’ experience levels, continuing education practices, and interests in network building to help develop programming and resources for professionals in our region’s cooperative community.

How can you help with this project?

If you are an attorney, accountant, or tax professional who works with cooperatives and collaborative enterprises, we invite you to take the short survey at the link below. The survey will gather information for a directory of professionals and ask about your experience with cooperatives as well as continuing education and networking interests. We anticipate that the survey will take approximately 5-10 minutes of your time.

If you know legal, financial, or tax professionals working with cooperatives, please forward this invitation to participate to them! Gathering robust information will help us create valuable resources for the cooperative community.

Professional Services for Collaborative Enterprises Survey

If you have questions about his project, please contact Hannah Scott at scott.1220@osu.edu or 740-289-2071 ext. 227. This survey is for a study being conducted by The Ohio State University.

CFAES Center for Cooperatives Launches Co-op Mastery

The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences Center for Cooperatives launched Co-op Mastery: Beyond Cooperatives 101, a new and innovative online training course designed to educate cooperative members, boards, management, employees, and students.

Co-op Mastery: Beyond Cooperatives 101 is made possible by a grant from the CHS Foundation 2017 Cooperative Education Grants Program. The training is housed in The Ohio State University’s public-facing online education platform. It is free and can be accessed online at go.osu.edu/coopmastery.

Caption: Co-op Mastery is a new online learning tool launched by The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences Center for Cooperatives.

“Co-op Mastery curriculum focuses on mid-level knowledge about the cooperative business model,” said Center for Cooperatives Program Manager, Hannah Scott.  “Training modules build on existing fundamental materials by providing an in-depth look at governance, finance, taxation and other areas not typically covered by courses in fundamentals, yet challenging topics for stakeholders.”

The training features eight modules which include video interviews with numerous leaders in the cooperative movement:

  • Logan County Electric Cooperative General Manager Rick Petty discusses cooperative principles and various functions of cooperatives.
  • Dennis Bolling retired President and CEO of United Producers Cooperative shares the benefits cooperatives provide members.
  • Mid-America Cooperative Counsel Executive Director Rod Kelsay discusses effective education and training the Board of Directors.
  • Ohio State Univerisity Extension Educator Dr. Chris Bruynis gives insight to key factors that contribute to a cooperative’s success.
  • Nationwide’s VP of Sponsor Relations Devin Fuhrman shares the story of Nationwide’s history as a mutual cooperative company.
  • Agricultural attorney Carolyn Eselgroth of Barrett, Easterday, Cunningham and Eselgroth, LLP addresses legal considerations when forming a cooperative business.
  • Co-Bank Senior Relationship Manager Gary Weidenborner leads users through an interactive financial document exercise.
  • David Hahn, Professor Emeritus the Ohio State University, explains cooperative taxation.

“We invite folks to ask questions and receive answers from our Center staff in the online Co-op Forum,” said Joy Bauman, Program Coordinator.  “They can also browse an extensive collection of online resources in the Cooperative Library.”

The CFAES Center for Cooperatives offers customized in-person workshops to complement the online training. Workshops are designed to serve the requesting cooperative’s needs. Examples include: new employee education, board of director education, strategic plan development, cooperative marketing and policy development. Workshop participants receive a companion workbook with activities to fortify learning. They gain on-going access to Co-op Mastery online training materials, which they may work through at their own pace or search for specific information to meet immediate needs. Users can return to the Co-op Mastery online materials at any time to troubleshoot cooperative issues and they can receive ongoing technical assistance from CFAES Center for Cooperatives staff. To request a workshop or more information, visit go.osu.edu/cooperatives or contact the Center for Cooperatives at osucooperatives@osu.edu or 740-289-2071 ext. 111.

 

Casa Nueva: A New Flavor of Foodservice

Low salaries, high turnover and lack of employee engagement are prevalent in food service. Eight food entrepreneurs had a solution; they would create a restaurant that empowered employees through ownership. In 1985 they opened Casa Nueva, the first worker-owned cooperative restaurant in Ohio, in the heart of downtown Athens.

In 1987 Casa Nueva worked with the Appalachian Center for Economic Networks (ACEnet) to develop and market a product line of salsas and other value-added goods. The restaurant added a cantina in 1993, and a second kitchen in 2003.

Worker ownership in practice

Casa Nueva carries out daily operations with the help of worker-owners and non-owners (associates). 1/3 of staff are worker-owners, 2/3 are associates. Associates have an opportunity to apply for ownership after working 1000 hours in the restaurant, serving on special committees and earning positive performance evaluations. The co-op board of directors vote to approve or disapprove the associate’s application for ownership. All new owners contribute equity. The cost is offset by a raise that goes into effect when an associate becomes a member of the cooperative. Other benefits of membership include: voting rights, paid time-off, insurance and scheduling preference.

For over 30 years Casa has provided worker-owners with meaningful work, sustainable jobs and opportunities for advancement. Fresh ingredients, Mexican-inspired flavors, culture, music and art delight locals and students of Ohio University, the city’s main economic driver.

Founder Leslie Schaller shares Casa Nueva’s Story