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Community Enterprises

A community enterprise is a business owned, controlled and used by the people who live in a particular geographic area. Membership of a community enterprise is voluntary and open to the general public.

A community enterprise is a sustainable business that does not rely on charitable donations or government grants or subsidies for its continued existence.

Most community enterprises in Australia are incorporated as co-operatives. There are also a small number registered as unlisted public companies.

A community enterprise has primarily commercial objectives. Surplus funds may be distributed to owners of the enterprise and/or for community benefit. Some community enterprises such as FM radio stations operate as not-for-profit organisations, where surplus funds are retained in the enterprise.

Community enterprises are usually formed in rural towns to provide a service not currently available to the community or to buy out an existing business in order to save a service that is to be withdrawn from the community.

The first known community enterprise in Australia began operating in Brisbane, Queensland in 1859. The community owned retail store was modelled on the principles established by the Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society in the United Kingdom in 1844. The successful establishment of the Rochdale Society marked the beginning of the modern co-operative era.

During the 1860's, co-operative stores appeared in isolated industrial and coal mining communities in the Australian state of New South Wales. As the population spread inland and interstate, small rural communities around Australia formed co-operatives to supply food, clothing, household goods and farm supplies. In many towns, local butter factory co-operatives supplied electricity for the community.

Demographic changes and the growth of supermarket chains have seen many co-operative stores in rural and regional centres close over the past 30 years. Others diversified their range of products to include liquor, fuel, insurance and hardware supplies. The few that have survived have grown as farming communities focus on supporting local businesses.

Community enterprises have seen a resurgence in recent years. A growing number of rural towns across Australia are turning to community enterprises to provide new services such as FM radio stations and internet services, or save an existing service that is to be withdrawn from the community, such as a petrol station, post office, cinema, hotel or general store.


The following are links to community enterprises that are registered as co-operatives.

  Book Stores
  Energy supply
  FM Radio Stations
  Food Retailers
  Hotels and Cafés
  Internet Services
  Rural Stores

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