It is good to be back. Back on the road, that is. I was extra thankful this year to get some valuable windshield time while visiting cooperatives, communities and the people who make them great.

I’ve come to appreciate the “alone time” in the car. It is good therapy – giving me time to think, talk to myself (we tend to agree) and, yes, perhaps even sing outloud.

When I’m on a quiet road, I often catch myself looking at the long stretches of powerlines (and the road, too, of course). As I gaze a bit, my mind wanders to the era when those poles and wires were put in place or upgraded. I think of the people who built and maintained them and the farms, families, communities and businesses they have served.


I ponder the different conditions seen over generations. The periods of growth, good and hard times, the relief of a much-needed rain, or the hardship after a storm and times of drought. I think of the thousands who have gone elsewhere, but bring a piece of rural life to the places they now call home.

What I admire most is that for more than three-quarters of a century, cooperatives have stood beside their members through it all.

Aside from providing essential services, electric and telecommunications cooperatives have shared a longstanding commitment to each other and the communities they serve. Nearly 30 years ago, the Rural Electric and Telecommunications Development Center was formed to promote and support the advancement of cooperatives and community development projects that improve quality of life and sustain growth in rural areas. This work is possible through a shared vision, partnership and financial support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and North Dakota’s electric and telecommunications cooperatives.

Through the development center, our cooperatives have assisted hundreds of businesses and communities by offering technical assistance to advance initiatives that tackle rural issues in health care, child care, food access, housing, emergency services and more. And through creation of the Rural Development Finance Corporation and its revolving loan fund, the development center is able to provide low-interest loans and utilize programs, like USDA’s Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant, to help finance needed projects.

That’s the technical side of it. The exciting, often inspiring, you-could-write-a-magazine-feature-story side of it is told frequently throughout the pages of North Dakota Living. This month is no exception. On page 6, you’ll see the tangible impacts of the cooperative development center in communities across North Dakota.

My mind wanders back to the road and the powerlines dotting the landscape beside me. What would rural places be like without cooperatives’ commitment to community, I wonder? Those poles and wires represent more. So much more. Because even better than the alone time is the reminder of why I’m on the road in the first place. It really is “good to be back.”

Josh Kramer, editor-in-chief of North Dakota Living, is executive vice president and general manager of NDAREC. Contact him at