AURORA — Several hundred people attended an open house on Monday for the new Aurora Cooperative corporate office complex on the Leadership Center campus in Aurora.

From its beginnings in 1908, when 25 farmers pooled their resources to start the Aurora Elevator Co., the Aurora Cooperative last year had more than $1.1 billion in sales and more than 10,000 members.

The co-op’s rapid growth made it necessary to build a new corporate headquarters, said board Chairman Bill Schuster of Phillips. He said the cooperative’s leaders had been discussing the need for a new headquarters for about four years before breaking ground in July 2012.

Schuster said spending $11 million for a new corporate headquarters was not an easy decision for a company that’s owned by its patrons, but “it was something that needed to be done.”

He said the cooperative has seen sales grow during the last 11 years from $200 million to $1.1 billion. The company employs 650 people at 72 facilities in Nebraska, Kansas, South Dakota and across the country.

“We not only built this office for today but for years down the road,” Schuster said.

As the new headquarters was being built last year, the cooperative entered into an agreement with CHS, an energy grains and foods company and the nation’s leading farmer-owned cooperative, to build and operate a high-speed shuttle-loading facility near Superior.

The Superior East facility will have a storage capacity of 1.25 million bushels and a 120-car-capacity circle track on the BNSF line to move corn, soybeans and hard red winter wheat to markets in the west and south, including Mexico. Additionally, the location will provide a grain ground piling system, as well as 10,000-ton liquid fertilizer storage.

George Hohwieler, Aurora Cooperative president and chief executive officer, said the construction of the new headquarters is appropriate and timely with the company’s rapid growth.

He said the new headquarters puts an emphasis on technology while maintaining one-on-one relationships with the co-op’s farmer/owners, suppliers and markets. As the new Superior East facility shows, having the technology to keep on top of what international grain and energy markets are doing in real time can keep the Aurora Cooperative competitive in a rapidly changing world.

“We tried to build the building for the next generation,” Hohwieler said. “That is part of our vision. When you do that, you have to look out and see what are the needs of the American farmers well beyond our lifetime.”

He said the building not only reflects the architecture and design of rural America but is also flexible enough that, “when technology and the needs of the American farmer change, we can change with it.”

“We spent a lot of resources on information technology and backup to that information technology, and we are also investing in employees that can mine data and turn it into information that becomes part of our decision making,” Hohwieler said. “That has all been embedded into this building.”

The new facility demonstrates that farmer-owned cooperatives are still relative and strong in a growing international agribusiness environment, he said.

“There is definitively a place in 21st-century agriculture for agribusinesses organized as cooperatives that are farmer-owned,” Hohwieler said. “You need to run those businesses as state-of-the-art businesses, but there are such advantages in having farmers own their company, making decisions and planning for their grandchildren to be owners of the company.”

The Leadership Center, on whose grounds the co-op’s office is located, is owned and operated by the Nebraska Vocational Agricultural Foundation.

“We built this building to be very functional, but we also built it in conjunction with the Leadership Center,” Hohwieler said. “We have already been planning curriculum for 4-H and FFA leadership to come in and do some work in our facility.”

A key concept of the cooperative movement has always been education.

The new Aurora Cooperative headquarters also represents a strong commitment to the community of Aurora, Hohwieler said, not only because the co-op was founded in Aurora but also because of the progressive leadership of the community and its vision of the future.

Aurora Mayor Marlin Seeman, who was on hand for the open house, said, “Aurora Cooperative’s pride in its hometown is very important.”

He said the new Aurora Cooperative corporate headquarters will be a strong selling point for the community in its efforts to attract new businesses and economic opportunities.

“This building represents the future of Aurora’s growth,” Seeman said.

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I cover business, ag and general reporting for the GI Independent.

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