Cooperatives are, by any measure, a big deal in our state. From the Mississippi River to the Great Smoky Mountains, cooperatives improve the well-being of rural residents and communities across our state. They provide electric, internet and telephone services to homes, farms and rural businesses. They help Tennesseans secure financing for land. They offer products and services — including genetics and seed, nutrients and feed, crop protection and health equipment and fuel — for growing and marketing crops and livestock. They provide insurance for individuals and family businesses. And they employ thousands of Tennesseans.
Some 200 cooperatives currently serve Tennesseans through more than 6,000 employees working to impact our state’s economy by more than $1 billion annually, supporting schools and local infrastructure through tax contributions, enhancing our commitment to and focus on rural economies and shaping and empowering our state’s future.
The best thing about cooperatives? They are controlled by their members who actively participate in setting policies and making decisions. Representatives are elected from among the membership and are accountable to the membership. Every member has equal voting rights: one member, one vote. This is one of our key guiding principles.
Other than certain rules that we have to follow like regulatory or legal requirements, the policies your electric cooperative follows were developed by co-op member-owners like yourself.
That difference in ownership also leads to a difference in governance. Many corporate board members are selected because of their wealth, influence and position. That’s not the criteria for a co-op board. First and foremost, every electric co-operative director is a member of the cooperative. Directors serve on the board because they were elected by other co-op members — you — to represent them.
Because they are members, they live and often work in the communities they serve. That ensures that their attention is rightly focused on where they live. When you make a decision that affects you and your neighbors, you want to get it right. If you don’t, your neighbors will let you know about it.
Cooperatives across the state work for the development of their communities. Support for education, healthcare and economic development helps grow the community and keep it vibrant for tomorrow’s co-op members — your children and grandchildren.
Earlier this summer, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, by proclamation, declared October 2017 as Cooperative Month. With 75 percent of Tennesseans served in some manner by a cooperative, we think a month-long celebration of co-operative membership is a fitting tribute.