Officials discuss Havre co-op center


Ralph Peck, director of the Montana Department of Agriculture, will support moving the Montana Cooperative Development Center out of Helena as quickly as possible, a local legislator said today.

Senate Minority Leader Jon Tester and Rep. Bob Bergen met this morning with Peck in Great Falls to discuss the center's future.

The state Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development office in Helena announced last week that the center, created in 1999, will be moved from the Montana State University-Northern campus to Helena, where it would be supervised by the Department of Agriculture. The center is slated to move Tuesday.

"We all agreed we don't want it in Helena over the long term. It fits better in Eastern Montana," Tester, D-Big Sandy, said in a telephone interview this morning.

Peck could not be reached for comment.

Tester said Peck doesn't oppose moving the center back to Havre, but said the decision should be left up to its advisory board. Tester is a member of that board.

Tester added that he plans to ask the board to meet within the first three weeks of July to make a decision about where the center should go.

It was too late to keep the center from moving out of Havre, Tester said.

USDA Rural Development state director Tim Ryan said his agency would not oppose keeping the center in Havre or moving it back to Havre if that is what Peck decides.

Ryan said Rural Development and the Department of Agriculture decided to move the center to Helena to give it better supervision and direction. A board of directors will be appointed by Peck's department, and more full-time workers will be hired to provide assistance. The center had two full-time workers at Northern.

Tester said the center will provide four full-time jobs once it is in its final location.

The important question is where it would have the best effect for the entire state, Ryan said.

"We're focusing on it being the lead cooperative development center for the entire state of Montana," he said.

Much of the center's funding has been through Rural Development grants, along with a $65,000 state appropriation and other grants. Last year Rural Development approved a $291,652 grant for the center.

Bergren, D-Havre, said today he talked with several people last week to find ways to prevent the move.

Two of the people he talked to about their organizations possibly hosting the center were John Magyar, general manager of the Triangle Telephone and Hill County Electric cooperatives, and Paul Tuss, executive director of Bear Paw Development Corp.

Magyar said today that the decision to host the center would ultimately be up to the cooperatives' boards, but that Hill County Electric's board met Friday and decided to assist the center if necessary.

"We're a cooperative and we certainly are willing to help out. We absolutely believe in that form of business model," he said.

If any other business or group wanted to help instead, the cooperatives would not oppose that, he added.


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