By Martin J. Kidston
Hoping to jump start the state's rural economy, the Montana Cooperative Development Center has reapplied for a grant that if received would help foster economic growth in the far corners of the state.
Greg Jergeson, director of Grants and Sponsored Research at Montana State University-Northern, said the cooperative center, based at Montana State University-Northern, should have a better chance of landing the nationally competitive grant made available through the United States Dairy Association's Rural Development Program.
"We applied for it in May and made the final 15, but the grant only funded the top 10 programs," Jergeson said. "However, for next year, the budget for the program has been increased, and having more resources available in the program greatly improves our chances."
Jergeson told the MCDC Advisory Council at a meeting on Dec. 6, that Sen. Conrad Burns, who sits on the appropriations committee in Washington, was able to influence Congress to increase funding to the USDA's Rural Development Program. As a result, the program's funding jumped from $1.4 million to $4 million.
And while the MCDC awaits funding, the program's advisory council held its first meeting on Monday at Montana State University-Northern. There, Jergeson explained the MCDC as a geographically dispersed program, which allows it to work as a state-wide resource, fostering development of new cooperatives through a "rural development strategy."
Once off the ground, the center will develop, promote and coordinate educational programs, technical assistance and research on the cooperative form of business in hopes of improving Montana's rural economy.
In order to accomplish its mission, Jergeson said, the goals of the MCDC are wide-spread, from promoting the development of new cooperatives to providing "business incubation" to prospective enterprises. The program also addressed rural development issues with a focus on research and value-added enterprises, while equipping individuals with the skills necessary to manage a profitable enterprise.
Waiting to venture full force towards its goals, the 17-member MCDC advisory council, comprised of representatives from agricultural, development and economic organizations from across the state, is planning its first public activities for early January of next year.
"The first public activities of the MCDC will be a series of cooperative development workshops, which will be presented
in seven communities throughout Montana," Jergeson said. "Each of the five workshops will cover a different topic related to cooperative development."
Jergeson said the workshops will last three hours and will be broadcast over Vision Net, a telecommunications system built by five of Montana's rural telephone cooperatives who together have invested nearly $30 million into MSU-Northern, making the school the obvious choice over its collegiate counterparts within the state.
"There are some folks who consider Havre and the Hi-Line to be the center of the cooperative movement in the state," Jergeson said. "But more specifically, MSU-Northern was chosen as the base of the MCDC because of its fiber optics and state-of-the-art switching equipment."
Jergeson said Northern uses the Vision Net system to deliver educational opportunities through the NorthNet program. The technology allows the school to broadcast interactive television programs throughout the state.