Protecting Wealth, Growing Economies And Creating Jobs

The co-operative business model and economic growth in rural and Indigenous communities

In small markets, such as rural and remote communities, attracting investment and growing the local economy can be a serious challenge. In the recent past, to gain vital infrastructure and amenities, such as power, gas, financial services, groceries and market local products to a broader audience, community leaders on the prairies turned to the co-operative business model.

Over time, these co-operatives grew into large power companies, an oil refinery, global grain marketing entities, large financial institutions and a federation of grocery stores and gas stations. These businesses have a compounding impact on local economies, and can lead to increased investment from government and investor-driven corporations.

“Co-operatives can often be the result of people getting angry, or tired of waiting, and organizing to do things themselves,” says Audra Krueger, Executive Director of Co-operatives First. “Today, with populations concentrating in urban areas, co-ops remain an important economic tool for rural communities.”

For First Nations, Métis and Indigenous communities, the opportunity for economic growth using the co-operative business model is worth considering. By building on the strength of organizing, protecting local wealth and attracting outside investment, small and challenging market communities can grow and thrive. A good example of this is Old Crow Co-op.

“For the village of Old Crow and Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation, creating a co-operative business increased local wealth, capacity, food security and independence,” says Duane Wilson, VP of Stakeholder Relations at Arctic Co-op, a federation of 32 co-operative businesses operating in the Arctic.

With revenue topping $2 million in 2016, Old Crow Co-op offers postal service, banking, groceries and hospitality to the village of 300, many of whom are also members of Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation. The business not only brings wealth into the community, it helps keep the dollars already in the community stay in the community, compounding wealth creation and creating opportunities for investment in the community.

“Keeping money from leaving small communities and going to large centres is key to maintaining and creating new wealth in a small market,” says Krueger. “While the co-operative business model is not a cure-all, it can turn a challenging opportunity into local economic growth.”


Co-operatives First inspires community, business and economic development through the co-operative model, helping western Canada’s rural and Indigenous communities thrive and grow. We have the experience, connections and resources to help guide group entrepreneurs towards sustainable, community-led solutions that create jobs, keep profits in the community and strengthen local business, community and economic development. And we provide this support for free.