The cooperative ownership model is used in a wide variety of contexts, ranging from the production and distribution of energy to delivery of home health care services for the elderly. In a broad sense, cooperatives operate to complement the activities of investor-owned firms. Whether providing organic and natural foods to consumers, counteracting asymmetric market power between farmers and agribusiness intermediaries, delivering utility services for households in rural areas and basic banking services for consumers, or redressing problems with long-term contracting in insurance markets, cooperative ownership can be viewed as "bottom-up" private-party response to market imperfections.

Given the unique niche that cooperatives fill in the U.S. economy, it is unfortunate that so little is known about where and how cooperatives operate. Unlike data-reporting agencies of many other countries, the U.S. Census Bureau does not identify cooperatives in any of its census or business reporting surveys. As a consequence, there are no federally reported data on cooperatives in the United States. The purpose of this project is to fill this gap by conducting a census of cooperatives, and by measuring their impact on aggregate income and employment.

Project Objectives

In this project, we seek to:

  • Build a comprehensive list of all U.S. cooperatives.
  • Establish a Cooperative Research Council (CRC) to engage the cooperative sector in helping to identify (i) critical research needs for cooperatives, and (ii) funding opportunities to sustain the current research into future years.
  • Gather economic data from cooperatives and conduct analysis on direct and indirect economic impacts.
  • Develop innovative and rigourous approaches for measuring the unique economic and social impacts of cooperatives.

Funding Sources and Project Partners

This project is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture with matching support from the National Cooperative Business Association and its members, and the State of Wisconsin’s Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection. In-kind support is provided by the University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives and the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics at the University of Wisconsin—Madison.

The Project Principal Investigators are Steven Deller, Ann Hoyt, Brent Hueth, and Reka Sundaram-Stukel, all of the University of Wisconsin—Madison.

For more information on the project, contact Brent Hueth at (608) 890-0924 or hueth@wisc.edu, or Lynn Pitman at (608) 261-1355 or pitman@wisc.edu.

For information about project data availability for research at educational institutions, contact Bruce Reynolds at USDA/RD/Cooperative Programs: Bruce.Reynolds@wdc.usda.gov, or (202) 720-3694.