By Guy Gregory
MCDC Communications Specialist

Co-op leaders from across Montana converged for MCDC’s 2nd Annual Back to Basics Cooperative Summit at Fairmont Hot Springs. More than 80 people attended this year’s event that featured four major sectors of the cooperative economy: food and agriculture, community investment, housing and consumer-based co-op businesses. Many attendees also enrolled in the pre-summit workshops prior to the summit.  George Haynes, Montana State University Professor and Extension Economist, discussed cooperative finance and patronage during one of the workshops.  Cooperative leaders later gathered at a “World Café” interactive social hour to discuss the challenges they face in operating their respective co-ops.

National Cooperative Business Association President and CEO Judy Ziewacz was the keynote speaker of the event.  Following Ziewacz, attendees viewed the recently-released video production entitled “Montana Co-ops 101”.  The documentary is a first in an educational series produced by MCDC, whose board cosponsored the production with the Montana Council of Cooperatives.

Four concurrent tracks followed the video presentation.  Bill Perry, Montana President of Northwest Farm Credit Services, briefed co-op leaders about current investment and loan opportunities during the community investment track.  Perry was joined by Alberta Community and Co-operative Association’s Manager of Co-op Services Seth Leon.  Leon spoke to the panel via a live web conference from Calgary, Alberta.

Community and economic development leaders joined real estate professional and state housing officials to explore the opportunities and challenges in developing housing co-ops in the state during the housing track.  Meanwhile, co-op leaders from Montana’s food and ag sectors explored how cooperatives could better meet the needs of food producers and consumers.  The formation of regional food hubs to meet local needs was the major focus of the discussion.  Leaders of consumer and shared service co-ops (big and small) also came together to share their wide range of experiences in governing their respective businesses.

USDA Rural Development Cooperative Development Specialist Margaret Bau traveled from Washington D.C. to share her experiences in co-op development.  She also spoke at the  banquet dinner about the history of cooperatives, the many services co-ops have provided, and how co-ops continue to serve rural communities across the nation.

Mark Willmarth of Vision West Consulting in Great Falls, was the summit facilitator for a second year and he helped wrap up the event by speaking on the importance of building sustainable friendships in business.  Willmarth pointed out that the most important aspect of the event was “the opportunity to network and develop relationships with people committed to the cooperative model.”

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