2016 was an exciting year at the Ohio Cooperative Development Center (OCDC) at The Ohio State University South Centers! The center continued its mission of rural economic development by providing education and assisting cooperative businesses across Ohio and West Virginia.
Cooperative Education Across the Region
OCDC provides education on the cooperative business model and business development that not only increases awareness of the business model, but helps groups who are exploring the start-up of a co-op business to make informed decisions.
Throughout 2016, OCDC provided a number of educational sessions at events like the West Virginia Small Farm Conference, the Ohio Produce Growers and Marketers Association Annual Congress, the Ohio Aquaculture Association Annual Conference, and the West Virginia Agricultural Innovation Showcases in Huntington and Moorefield. Specialists with OCDC lead programs for high school agricultural science students from Portsmouth and Piketon, Ohio, and presented to business students at the University of Rio Grande.
In order to support the development of rural businesses, OCDC counselors provide technical assistance in a number of areas including feasibility analysis, business planning, cooperative formation counseling, and financial planning, among others. In 2016, OCDC counselors worked with a variety of clients who were forming new cooperatives or existing cooperatives that were working to improve their businesses.
For example, OCDC staff provided support to the Southern Ohio Growers Cooperative (SOGC) to explore the cooperative business model, legally incorporate a new business, and build financial projections for the 2016. The co-op was up and running for the 2016 growing season, marketing a variety of pumpkins to retailers across the state and helping member farms increase their revenue!
Ohio and West Virginia Food Hub Network
OCDC continued convening and facilitating the successful Ohio and West Virginia Food Hub Network throughout 2016, bringing together food hub managers, directors, developers, and technical assistance providers for peer learning and networking. The network met quarterly and included sessions focused on financing, quality and process controls, and institutional markets. Multiple network meetings throughout the year included tours of operating businesses, including produce aggregation and distribution businesses and local food grocers. The tours of operational facilities gave participants the chance to observe working facilities, learn from employees about how produce is sourced from growers, protocols for aggregating and distributing products, as well as the importance of quality and safety control throughout the supply chain. OCDC was pleased to partner with the West Virginia Food and Farm Coalition and the Value Chain Cluster Initiative to host the August 2016 network meeting.
Building OCDC’s Capacity
OCDC is committed to building the center’s capacity for technical assistance in order to enhance the support available to Ohio and West Virginia’s new and emerging cooperatives. In October, OCDC took a large step forward toward increasing capacity by welcoming a new staff member!
Ivory Harlow is a Program Specialist working to provide technical assistance and educational programming to rural businesses in the region. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration from Strayer University and earned a Master of Arts from Ohio Christian University. Ms. Harlow is a veteran of the United States Air Force, where she served as a medical material logistics journeyman. She is a graduate of Syracuse University Whitman School of Management’s Veteran Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship (V-WISE) program, and Entrepreneur Bootcamp for Veterans (EBV) at the Trulaske College of Business, University of Missouri. Ivory has a background in agriculture and business development. She is the owner of Dickie Bird Farm LLC in Ross County, Ohio. She writes Farm Forward, a weekly agriculture column for Farm and Dairy Newspaper.
OCDC Recognized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture
On October 3, 2016, the Ohio Cooperative Development Center was recognized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development with an Award of Excellence. The award was granted, “In honor of nearly two decades of steadfast promotion and support of co-ops, leading to the success of innumerable rural and agricultural-based businesses in the Buckeye state.” Sam Rikkers, Administrator of USDA Rural Development’s Rural Business Cooperative Service presented the award to OCDC staff along with Tony Logan, Director of USDA Rural Development in Ohio. The two visited Piketon to help kick off Co-op Month 2016 and to announce awards for USDA’s Rural Cooperative Development Grant (RCDG). As a recipient of an award through the grant program for the upcoming year, OCDC received funds to support business assistance throughout the region, focusing particularly on businesses in agriculture, forest and wood products, transportation, and energy.