Langley: Cooperative Businesses and Their Advantages


Sarah Buening

The U’s organic gardening class on a field trip at the Mobile Moon co-op in Salt Lake City, UT. (Photo by Sarah Buening | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Jeffrey Langley Jr., Opinion Editor


Running a business in the United States is a complicated task. Whether with attracting investors, managing employees or keeping track of payroll, complications can be frequent and devastating for early businesses. However, entrepreneurs and workers have developed strategies that differ from the traditional, top-down firms many have come to hate.

A cooperative or co-op business structure is an excellent example of this. Co-ops are businesses run, managed and owned by workers rather than by stockholders or single proprietors. Every worker has a voice and vote in each decision made in the company. Many are founded with such ideals as workplace democracy, autonomy and independence — mirroring our nation’s professed values. While many may find this concept far-fetched, experts agree that co-ops are extraordinarily stable and productive. With cooperatives becoming more common, we should embrace their viability in the U.S. economy.

Business owners and entrepreneurs would be wise to join workers in solidarity and establish cooperative firms. Let us forge a nation where freedom and democracy do not end at the factory’s doors.

Benefits for Workers

Amid COVID-19 and economic uncertainty, many workers worry about their job security. Plenty of workers find their positions more secure in a cooperative than in a private firm. This makes sense considering cooperatives are more resilient in the face of hardship. For example, many cooperatives quickly adapted to their situation during the pandemic — a feat many traditionally structured businesses could not achieve. Secondly, cooperators are less likely to abandon their colleagues than impartial investors or owners. The incentive in a co-op isn’t merely to turn a profit, but to build a sustainable, collaborative community. Because of this, workers need to develop strong bonds with their colleagues.

Cooperators also are, on average, more satisfied with their employment. The more diverse work environments within collectively-owned establishments create workers that are naturally more productive, well-trained and community-orientated. Entrepreneurs would be fools to pass on the opportunity to nourish more effective, happy workers.

Economic Benefits

Contrasting traditional firms, cooperatives pay according to the value a worker puts into the cooperative with their labor. It’s no-nonsense. One gets what one puts in. As a result, the average cooperator makes almost $20 an hour, compared to the national average of just $10.95. Cooperatives also, on average, pay more in taxes than other businesses and regularly give millions to charity each year.

Students and young people also benefit from joining and forming co-ops. Firstly, education and training comprise some of the pillars of cooperatives worldwide. Cooperatives don’t raise their noses at young adults fresh out of college or high school but rather take them under their wing and develop their skillset. Secondly, cooperatives are easier to form for those with fewer financial resources. It’s much more feasible for a band of workers to gather capital than to attract investors or brave the costs alone.

Speaking with the Utah Co-op

The Utah Co-op Market is a non-profit grocer and charity based in Salt Lake City. The cooperative has been active for 16 years, surpassing the longevity of most small businesses. Rebecca Bates, a volunteer coordinator, spoke to the Chronicle about the values and goals of her association. She said, “Our biggest [objective] is making things better for the community and reaching out to everyone that we can because the co-op is so important … it can make a huge difference in the area that it’s in.”

Bates gives this example by explaining how her co-op has aided local farmers. She explained, “We’ve had farmers that we’ve been able to keep their farms because of the co-op … we’ve been an outlet for their product and support them, because we also provide volunteers to go in at no charge to help with planting and harvesting and stuff like that.” When asked if others in Utah should form co-ops, she replied, “Definitely! Anything that brings a community together for its betterment is so important.”

It is clear that cooperatives are not only successful but are more beneficial to workers, economies and local communities. By shifting the focus from profit to collaboration, cooperatives create a healthier, more productive work environment and culture. Not only this, but the establishment of cooperatives will expand our nation’s dedication to democracy and liberty. Utah only stands to improve with the foundation of cooperatively owned firms, so what’s stopping us?


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