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Peavey Industries: Building a Cooperative Future

Written By Lisa Catteral.

If you grew up or now live in a small community in the prairies, chances are you’ve shopped at the local co-operative. You probably even have a co-op membership card...

Family bakes together

If you grew up or now live in a small community in the prairies, chances are you’ve shopped at the local co-operative. You probably even have a co-op membership card. But you might not have thought of this stalwart of the prairies as a means of building a sustainable local economy.

For generations, local community members have pooled resources and capital to operate grocery stores, credit unions and agricultural markets, reinvesting profits community social, cultural and economic benefits. Today, although the models might come in different shapes and sizes, they are tackling even bigger goals – the long term sustainability of entire local economies.

“Co-ops are well positioned to solve problems in local economies. They’re built for the long haul, and they’re designed to help a community reach both financial and non-financial goals,” says Seth Leon, co-op services manager with the Alberta Community & Cooperative Association (ACCA).

Founded in 2005, the ACCA represents more than 650 co-ops and credit unions across Alberta. Members include everything from more traditional opportunity development co-ops like the Sangudo Opportunity Development Co-op, to newer organizations like the Bow Valley Green Energy and Alberta Solar Co-ops, and even a worker co-operative restaurant – Calgary’s The Allium.

In addition to building awareness and understanding of the strategic advantage co-ops offer for local economic development needs, the ACCA is involved in a nationwide initiative looking at ways to support local economies as business owners exit, either by retiring or relocating to larger centres. Hosted out of the University of Waterloo, the Legacy Leadership Lab is working to help smaller communities convert businesses that are essential parts of their local communities to social purpose or cooperative enterprises to continue that entrepreneurial legacy.

“Prior to COVID, we were already seeing businesses leaving the economy with retirements and such. COVID has really accelerated that. Through the Legacy Leadership Lab, we’re working to build tools to support communities with keeping it local, creating good jobs, and having that positive long-term impact,” says Leon.

“It was a really different year than any of us expected, but some of our members have done an amazing job responding to COVID,” says Leon.

“One really interesting example is YYC Growers and Distributors, a co-op of urban ag producers in Calgary. When everyone was locked down, they were looking for local solutions and different delivery models, and they were really able to really step into that to keep their doors open and keep operating.”

A new chapter for Peavey Industries

The ACCA is also supporting the development of a new opportunity development co-operative in three rural Albertan communities. In November 2020, Peavey Industries, the parent company of rural retailers Peavey Mart, MainStreet Hardware and TSC Stores, along with the ACCA, launched the Stettler Opportunity Development Cooperative (ODC).

“The Peavey Mart brand, and our whole organization really, comes from rural communities and smaller centres,” says Doug Anderson, president and CEO of Peavey Industries. “A few years ago, the realization came to mind that we were at risk because populations were leaving rural communities. So we asked ourselves, ‘Well, what are we doing to ensure that our small towns are growing and flourishing as opposed to shrinking and disappearing?’”

This series of Peavey Opportunity Development Co-ops is the latest in the company’s efforts to ensure the health and longevity of the communities in which they operate. Since taking on the role of general manager in 2011, Anderson has spent much of his time focused on long-term planning for the company. He’s crafted a 100-year plan, outlining strategies to ensure the company is continually reinvesting in its communities. Some of the earlier initiatives include a $50,000 community agricultural grant, as well as restructuring the company to encourage broad-based employee ownership.

The Stettler ODC marks the beginning of a new chapter for Peavey Industries’ community investment efforts. Operated by a locally based committee with a strong understanding of service gaps and opportunities in the community, the Stettler ODC will invest local capital to support a new business in the area. It’s a chance for community members to co-create economic opportunities that will benefit the region for years to come. And with Peavey Industries matching capital raised by local residents, up to $150,000, that money will go even further to support local driven economic development.

“What I love about the model we’ve developed is that we’re leveraging local knowledge and expertise. We’re acting as the catalyst, bringing together the local movers and shakers, and we’re putting money on the table. But then, it’s up to the community to decide what to invest in,” says Anderson. “Who are we to say what a community needs? That’s a question that needs to be answered at the local level.”

The Stettler ODC is the first in what will be a line of similar Peavey-backed co-ops in communities across Alberta. Plans are also underway in Vermillion and High River for similar ODCs, with additional locations to follow.

In addition to directly investing capital in each ODC, Peavey Industries will provide back-end administrative support that will ensure consistency and knowledge transfer between communities. They’re even in the process of developing customized software to further support this initiative.

“We’re working to create something that has never existed before, and that’s what gets me really excited,” says Anderson.

“There is potential in the future for us to license this software and have it be available to other opportunity development co-operatives too. We’re really working to create some great things.”

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