Cash isn’t the only benefit

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I think the move to create a Creston & District Community Investment Co-op is one of the most exciting innovations we have seen in many years. Providing the opportunity for local citizens to invest in local businesses will benefit our community in many ways, and credit goes to Kootenay Employment Services for having the vision and personnel, and the access to funds, to get the initiative underway.

When Angela and I walked into an information session at the Ramada last Thursday evening I’ll admit to being a little disappointed to see only about half of the 100 chairs taken. But I was heartened by the news that an afternoon session was a standing room only affair.

The meeting was conducted by Eden Yesh, who grew up in Creston and now works for KES in its Invermere office. He has been working on the development of an investment co-operative for three years, and countless hours by him, other KES staff, and volunteers have led to a point where residents from Yahk to Riondel can buy memberships and then purchase investment shares. Details are elsewhere in this issue.

As I listened to Yesh’s presentation, and then watched the live Internet feed that connected us to a fellow from Sangudo AB, a hamlet north of Edmonton, which has a similar investment co-op. I was particularly struck with a story he told about the owner of an meat shop and abbatoir who wanted to retire and was just going to close down. The co-op then approached him and convinced him to work with a couple of men who would take it over, and it succeeded in keeping the needed business in the community. It’s a story I hope we can replicate here.

Throughout the evening I couldn’t help but think back to 1951, when a group of 10 local residents met to find a way to meeting the area’s financial needs in a way that banks don’t. They pooled their resources to get it started and here we are, 65 years later, with a $100-plus million credit union that is a rock solid major community business.

The great thing about co-ops is that they start with a handful of idealists, but as they grow and succeed they become solid businesses on their own merits, and attract member/customers who might not have the same appreciation of co-operatives, and don’t need to. They are simply attracted by the quality of service and products, and the co-op’s competitiveness in the market place.

That’s a long way out, of course, and I think it’s unlikely that the first shareholders and investors are looking for a big return at this time. They are like the Credit Union’s original 10 members in sharing a belief in their community and a desire to work together to make it better.

Over the years I have watched many, many small business owners open their doors, and had a hard time believing they had much a chance at success. The common threads in the ones that fail include a lack of capital, lack of experience and an inability to market themselves. I have often described these folks as people who have a passion that they want to turn into a business, and who then spend every cent they can come up with just to open their doors to the public. At that point they sit waiting for business, not knowing who their customers might be or how to reach them.

That won’t happen when prospective business owners apply for CDCI Co-op loans. They will either have a solid business plan (which includes marketing) or they will be offered help in creating one. To be approved for a loan they will have to agree to work with a mentor or other supportive and experienced people—typically volunteers. CDCI Co-op can also help pave the way for Credit Union or Community Futures lending, too. Perhaps best of all, borrowers will have a built in support base that consists of the co-op’s investors, all of whom have a vested interest in seeing them succeed.

I’m sold on the idea, of course, just as I was sold on the idea of Creston & District Credit Union (though not, believe it or not, back in 1951!). I believe in this community and I want others to have the same chance to grow and thrive in it like we have.