Our small towns are seeing big changes. Lots of business owners are retiring, older people are looking for new accommodations, and young people are seeking opportunities away from big cities. Your community has an opportunity to attract new people that will contribute to local economic growth. But people need access to infrastructure and services that many small towns don’t have.
At Co-operatives First, we work with communities of all shapes and sizes. And in our work, we’ve helped dozens of small towns build businesses that make their community more attractive. Here are five co-ops every small town should consider starting to give their economy a boost:
There’s a good chance your town doesn’t have the housing options it needs to meet future demands. Whether it’s younger people looking for affordable options or seniors seeking to downsize, the housing needs of small towns are changing. Housing co-ops offer a unique model to solve the needs of small towns, where residents are the owners. That means you don’t need to wait on developers to invest in your community. Local residents can work together to meet their own needs, whether that’s multi-unit options for small families or health-integrated models that allow residents to age in place. Plus, housing co-ops align with the funding requirements for most of CMHC’s programs, so you may be able to get funding to support your initiative.
Young families need affordable childcare. To make your community an attractive option, consider starting a daycare co-op. These parent-owned facilities have long filled a gap in western Canadian communities. In towns like Smoky Lake, Alberta, a new daycare co-op provided care for over 40 children, freeing up parents to become two-income households. This not only boosts the local economy, it makes the community more attractive to young families looking to settle down. And with federal and provincial governments increasing their support for childcare, now’s the time to create a daycare co-op.
Fibre Optic Co-op
We learned some important lessons during the Covid-19 pandemic. Employees like working remotely and these new working arrangements require reliable internet. Younger people are eyeing small towns as an alternative to the high housing prices in big cities. But to attract these workers, your community needs to provide high-speed internet. You could wait for one of the big internet service providers to do this work for you, or you could follow in the footsteps of the people in Hamiota, Manitoba. In Hamiota, leaders created the Park West Fibre Optic Co-op and installed 140km of fibre optic cable, providing some of Canada’s fastest internet (1gbps) to their rural residents.
Main Streets, downtowns, and city squares are the heart of their communities. And in many small towns across western Canada, there’s room to improve these community spaces by creating opportunities for local businesses. Farmers, home-based businesses, and artists need space to connect with buyers; by collaborating and forming a marketing co-op, they can re-purpose empty space in their community to do just that. That was the goal of the Gravelbourg Artisan Co-op which is building a community of makers and re-purposing their community’s historic buildings.
Community Investment Co-op
Whenever you have a conversation about starting a new business or making a local investment, someone’s bound to ask, “how are we going to pay for it?” With a community investment co-op, your community members can put up money to support their town. Small towns are wealthy places. But that money is too often tied up in the Toronto and New York stock markets doing economic development somewhere else. Why not re-direct some of your savings to a local organization that’s committed to investing in local projects and businesses? That’s what the people in Sangudo did when they created an investment co-op that helped entrepreneurs buy the local meat processing business, build new houses, and invest in a new restaurant. If you don’t invest in yourself, why would anyone else?
Starting a co-op is a different way to do business. It means working with what you’ve got to make your community a better place. You don’t need to wait for the government or big business to save your town. You know best what your community needs and, at Co-operatives First, we can help you build a co-op to bring your idea to life. Get in touch!