Our Time to Shine - Carolina Country

Our Time to Shine

Co-ops find new ways to serve members during a trying year

By Emily Nail

Carmen Dietrich

Happy Co-op Month! If you’re reading this in Carolina Country magazine, you’re very likely a member of one of North Carolina’s 26 electric cooperatives. Cooperatives are such amazing businesses. Not only do we strive to provide the best products, services and support to our member-owners, we try to do that in our community and for other cooperatives, too.

Co-ops around the world operate according to the same set of seven Cooperative Principles, which have been in overdrive the past 10 months. While 2020 has brought more than its share of hardships, 2020 has also been the year for cooperatives to shine by putting their member-owners first. It’s just how we operate, in good times and bad, and it’s long proven to be a rock-solid business model.

Let’s look at a few industry sectors in North Carolina to see how co-ops have dug in and implemented their Cooperative Principles amid the trials this year has brought.

Electric Co-ops

Today, when we flip a switch, we expect it to turn on our lights, fans or other electric appliances. If it doesn’t, we call our electric company. In North Carolina, electric cooperatives provide service to 2.5 million people. This is almost a quarter of our state’s population and almost 50 percent of the land mass. Electric cooperatives teamed up during the aftermath of Hurricane Isaias to restore power — our coastal community was hit hard, and our inland cooperatives sent support. Electric co-ops are also working together with members, employees and local groups to help those in need during the pandemic.

Credit Unions

Yes, credit unions are cooperatives. They are member-owned financial institutions where each person with an account has a vote, owns a share, and has the power to drive financial success of the organization alongside the staff. In North Carolina, there are 61 credit unions (CUs) with almost $60 billion in assets and more than 4.6 million members. Credit unions across the state have offered loan forgiveness, waived overdraft fees, and allowed for higher loan volume for those suffering from job loss or a natural disaster. Credit unions transitioned from brick and mortar locations to virtual services to continue member financial education and transactional service amid the pandemic. Credit unions stepped up to give back during the financial strain on households.


Another amazing sector setting high standards in our state are the seven communication cooperatives that, during this unsettling time, have provided free broadband access to virtual learners, people working from home, and others who needed hot spots to communicate. Communication cooperatives serve over 150,000 member-owners across 30 counties in the state. The member-owners of these co-ops might not have access to landlines or broadband if it were not for their cooperatives.


Retail co-ops have proven to be essential services in recent months. They include our food cooperatives, agriculture supply cooperatives and other retail cooperative establishments. These co-ops have kept the shelves stocked for all of their members to have access to the supplies that they want and need. And they’ve done this in new and innovative ways by providing delivery, taking orders online, and even having volunteers pack up these orders. These cooperatives have taken on new distribution channels to accommodate their members, and they’ve done it in the blink of an eye.

Insurance (mutual)

Insurance cooperatives — working tireless hours to provide our healthcare and insure our valuable possessions — are covering the bills to keep us healthy and keep our houses fixed up after natural disasters, not to mention getting our cars on the road again after accidents.

Our cooperatives are organizations that are making this state a better place to live. Be proud of your membership, join others, and own it.

About the Author

Emily Nail is executive director for the Cooperative Council of NC, an association of cooperatives across the state. Contact her at Emily.Nail@ccnc.coop.

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