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Influence Survey: Tim Bartlett on Cooperatives

For this week’s cover story, we polled a number of local folks about positive and negative influences in our region—people, ideas, circumstances. In the days to come, we’ll publish the responses we received in full here. 

Here’s what Tim Bartlett, general manager of the Lexington Coop, has to say:

1. What people/ideas/circumstances do you consider positive influences in this region?

The cooperative economy is alive and well and creating a powerful and positive impact in WNY.  Cooperatives are a businesses that are owned and run by the people who use them. Co-ops take many forms, from consumer co-ops that aggregate demand like credit unions and food co-ops to producer co-ops that aggregate supply like Upstate Farms and Welch’s.  People who start co-ops are empowering themselves; meeting their needs and solving problems through community based entrepreneurship.  Co-ops keep capital local by distributing profits based on use, not the number of shares you own.  

Examples of thriving co-ops abound in WNY.  Upstate Farms and Welch’s are two of the 100 largest co-ops in the nation, with combined revenues of over $1.5 billion and are owned and operated by the farmers of WNY.  Urban Roots is the first consumer co-op garden center in the US.  Lexington Co-op was started in 1971 and is now one of the busiest co-ops in the country on a sales per square foot basis. Consumer owned credit unions are prevalent in WNY and give ordinary people an alternative to the too-big-to-fails.  And countless more co-ops are starting, from housing co-ops to food co-ops to worker-owned co-ops.  These co-ops have thousands of local shareholders benefiting from their success.  They employ thousands of workers, and return hundreds of millions of dollars to the local economy each year.   

Paul Hazen, former CEO of the National Co-op Business Association said this in his address to the UN:  “One of the persistent myths about America is that rugged individualism built this country. Don’t you believe it. If you look at the critical moments in our history, starting with the Revolutionary War and the writing of our Constitution, it’s when we came together that we have been most successful. People working together built our schools and our religious institutions. People working together built our industries, defended us in two world wars, and sent men to the moon. Cooperatives are part of this. They built our farms, brought power and light to our rural areas, and provided a place to deposit money in the 1930s when the banking system failed.  Rugged individualism didn’t build America—cooperation did. And it’s needed now more than ever.”

Co-op owners aren’t waiting for the next silver bullet to come along.  They are pooling their resources and starting the businesses that will meet their needs and benefit their community.  The co-operative spirit and practice is alive and well in WNY, and we are better for it.  

2. What people/ideas/circumstances do you consider negative influences in this region?

Tracking new home sales as a positive economic indicator.  Our population has been stable for 50 years, so every one of the 70,000 new homes we have built since then has meant another home abandoned and another food growing region encroached upon.  

3. What people/ideas/circumstances do you think ought to be more influential in this region?

Building a culture of service in our public sector.  I’d like to see our leaders thinking of the bureaucracy they oversee as an engine to help the people of WNY have good schools, nice parks, and healthy communities.