In the fall of 2008, the board began thinking about how to expand the co-op that didn’t involve a store expansion. “Right now we can’t expand our physical plant,” said Eastside Food Co-op’s board president George Fischer. “So we started to look at ways that we could expand otherwise, including expanding our community.” One of the outcomes of their decision was the development of the NE Network in Minneapolis in 2009. (Northeast is the name of the neighborhood Eastside Co-op is located.)
The NE Network is a monthly meeting hosted by the co-op’s board. The neighborhood’s business owners and organizations are invited to participate. Every meeting focuses on a specific topic relevant to the community, and most of them are not “co-op” focused. For example, they’ve hosted a legislative update by a state representative regarding legislation that affects the community, and have also discussed the use of an old rail yard in the area as well as a bridge that was torn down and is currently being rebuilt. Another meeting featured a successful Northeast restaurant startup that demonstrated how they were able to start so strongly. Other topics have dealt with community gardens and the arts.
By focusing directly on these community issues, Fischer said they have been able to participate in positive economic development in their neighborhood as well as collaborate with city agencies.
The meetings are held early in the morning at 7:30 a.m. Fischer said it’s actually a time that works great because most small business owners find it works well. Fischer did comment that “there’s work involved” with being hosts, and they are shouldering the burden of coordinating the network, but he is finding that the connections have given his board a much larger perspective on their work in the community. “We’ve learned a lot and I think we understand the community much better. In this way our co-op stays relevant.”