Billion Dollar Co-op Soars to New Heights - KHGI-TV/KWNB-TV/KHGI-CD-Grand Island, Kearney, Hastings

Billion Dollar Co-op Soars to New Heights

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From his Case IH combine on the farm in Phillips, Nebraska, Bill Schuster can see the world. Or at least his grain can.

"It's a world crop anymore," he said. Schuster himself has traveled as far as Japan, and watches weather forecasts in South America to see how farmers there are doing.

Aurora Cooperative's Dawn Caldwell backs up that global connection. She said, "The grain that's grown in fields central Nebraska and north central Kansas is shipped to Mexico and other countries."

And who's behind this billion dollar enterprise? Farmers like Schuster.

He said, "People that do business with it are the owners. Everyone has a vested interest in the company."

Farmers working together formed the co-op more than a century ago. Arguably, things have changed the most in the last quarter-century. Many small town co-ops have merged into Aurora Cooperative.

It's a far cry from 1985 when Schuster joined the board of a co-op with three locations.

"If we would not have grown, if we would not have done what we have done, somebody else – there'd be a different name on the organization today," he said.

Now they have employees as far as Delaware and crop sprayers in Texas, with two dozen planes owned by the company.

This summer they broke ground on a new corporate headquarters with Gov. Dave Heineman and Senator-Elect Deb Fischer in attendance.

They have built more grain elevators, even some close to their competition. That's raised some eyebrows, but company leaders say they answer to their owners, who are also the customers.

Dawn Caldwell is head of corporate communications. She said they ask a basic question.

"Is it good for owners of the company. If it's good for the company it should be good for owners of the company and what will it offer to them to make improvements. Are there services that area needs that aren't currently being offered and do we already have customers there that have needs that need to be met," she explained.

When the co-op makes money, so do farmers, some of it tax-free.

"Sent back out to farmer-owners in the form of cash," Caldwell said.

Bill Schuster describes the growth as phenomenal. But he said continued success lies in the basics.

He said, "Still comes down to one on one people buy products and services from people. As long as you have good location people, stay in touch with local communities."

Aurora cooperative is doing something unique with its new headquarters. They are partnering with the Leadership Center in Aurora. That's where FFA kids and others receive training and attend retreats.

The corporate office building will sit on the same campus.

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