COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT INVESTING: Northcountry Cooperative Development Fund, November 1998
SOCIAL TOPICS (Archive): COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT INVESTING
Northcountry Cooperative Development Fund
Published, November 1998
The labor movement: the folks who brought you the weekend. A T-shirt or poster produced by the Northland Poster Collective of Minneapolis might carry this slogan. The collective is but one example of a borrower and member of the Northcountry Cooperative Development Fund (NCDF), this edition’s featured community development investment fund. Northland specializes in creating products which are popular with union organizers and activists; more recently, its creative services have been sought out by schools, battered women’s shelters, and teen drug centers.
One of the oldest community loan funds in the country, NCDF was founded in 1979 by a few food co-ops in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. Its mission is to serve as a financial intermediary, using surplus funds from member co-ops, individual members’ dues, and loans from institutions and individuals. Individuals pay a flat membership rate to purchase equity in the fund while member co-ops pay on a sliding scale based on their asset value. Any member can apply for a loan, although individuals are limited to borrowing for the purchase of a share in a housing cooperative. Currently NCDF has approximately 90 co-op members, in addition to individual members, and serves a 10 state area in the Upper Midwest.
Although the greatest number of co-op members are retail groceries, others include a bookstore, several construction companies, housing units, agricultural producers and distributors, a pharmacy, a taxi service, and several land co-ops. NCDF members contributed more than a third of all of NCDF’s lending funds in 1997, and nearly 80 percent of its total loan dollars went to projects in low income communities.
Whole Builders is a worker-owned design/construction cooperative and a member of NCDF. In 1998 it completed its largest project to date, Grace House II, a half million dollar foster care center for people living with AIDS. Typical of many of the members of NCDF, this co-op took its loan project a step further. It helped form “Amazing Grace,” a bicycle team that took part in this summer’s 500-mile Twin Cities-Wisconsin-Chicago AIDS Ride; the team raised $13,800 for Grace House II and other Minneapolis AIDS organizations.
To reach and support the smaller, rural food co-ops, NCDF hits the highway with the Traveling Cooperative Institute. Experienced cooperative staff members travel to more isolated areas to offer seminars. The seminars cover a wide range of subjects including how to understand and prepare financial statements, use tools for effective merchandising, and create strong membership programs. Both local growers and residents in these rural areas would not have convenient access to the distribution and enjoyment of natural foods without these local co-ops.
Though we often talk about co-operatives in the object form, the community activities of NCDF members also exemplify the verb, to co-operate. Whether its members are assisting the Amazing Grains Food Co-op in North Dakota after the 1997 floods, donating food to pantries, organizing community gardens, or assisting people of modest means obtain home or business ownership, their mission is fulfilled each day —“cooperation among cooperatives.”
Walden Asset Management began its Community Development Investment Service in 1996. Twice a year, we provide our clients with a choice of pre-selected community development loan funds, banks and credit unions that target international, national, regional or local projects, primarily in affordable housing and small businesses. All investments are client directed and are registered in clients' names. In the spirit of our clients’ willingness to accept a below market rate of return, USTC does not charge a fee on below market investments unless they exceed 5% of a portfolio.
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