The University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives and Cooperative Network were recently awarded $225,000 to create the Great Lakes Cooperative Center, a cooperative development center in Madison, Wisconsin, that will provide technical assistance and counsel to existing cooperatives as well as groups interested in forming cooperative businesses in the Upper Midwest.

In the coming year, the UW Center for Cooperatives will focus its efforts on developing cooperative businesses ventures within regional food systems. These ventures will provide agricultural producers and rural communities with increased opportunities for meeting the growing demand for local products from retailers and institutions such as hospitals and schools. Cooperative Network will work with cooperatives in the fields of health care, energy efficiency, and senior housing.

“The UW Center for Cooperatives and Cooperative Network have a strong history of collaborating on education, outreach, and policy,” says Anne Reynolds, assistant director for the UW Center for Cooperatives, “so we are thrilled to be working together more closely to support the development of cooperative businesses in the Upper Midwest.”

The grant was provided through USDA Rural Development’s Rural Cooperative Development Grant program. Under this program, grants of up to $225,000 may be awarded to colleges, universities and non-profit groups to create and operate centers that help individuals or groups establish, expand or operate rural businesses, especially cooperatives and mutually-owned businesses. Grants may be used to conduct feasibility studies, create and implement business plans, and help businesses develop new markets for their products and services. In 2011, the Rural Cooperative Development Grant program funded 36 organizations in 26 states.