By Guy Gregory
MCDC Communications Specialist
The man largely responsible for creating the Montana Cooperative Development Center (MCDC) retired in January after 19 years of service to the organization. Greg Jergeson had served on the board of directors as an at-large member since MCDC’s incorporation as a non-profit in 2004.
In the late 1990s Greg worked for the Montana State University-Northern (MSUN) Foundation in Havre, and his job included securing grants for rural economic development. The true launch of MCDC began shortly after Jergeson was able to secure a small USDA Rural Development grant in 1999 that allowed MCDC to hire its first executive director who was based on the campus of MSU-Northern. Thus in its infancy, MCDC was a university-based center governed by an advisory committee that would later evolve into a non-profit corporation, and the advisory committee woud become a “board of directors.”
It took two additional attempts to reel in the coveted $300,000 USDA-RD Rural Cooperative Development Grant (RCDG) in the year 2000. This new capacity arrived at the dawn of the new millennium and launched a new era in cooperative business development for rural Montana.
This much larger grant also enabled MCDC to branch-out and team up with economic development centers already established across the state. These centers were contracted to provide technical assistance to those seeking to launch cooperative enterprises in their respective geographical areas. Jergeson expressed the importance of building relationships with other economic development centers: “We were calling ourselves a statewide center for co-op development so we needed these co-op development advisors to be located across the state. At that time no one else was offering those services statewide.”
In order for MCDC to secure grants from USDA-RD, Jergeson said MCDC had to find matching funds. In 2001, the Montana State Legislature held a special session to consider and approve funding for economic development centers like MCDC. This statutory appropriation brought an additional $65,000 annually to MCDC that would satisfy the center’s yearly matching requirement under the RCDG program.
As MCDC expanded its budget and statewide presence, the organization restructured as a non-profit and replaced its advisory team with an elected board of directors. In 2003, MCDC was moved from its offices on the campus of MSU-Northern and for a very brief period, MCDC’s offices were housed at the Montana Department of Agriculture in Helena. It would not be long before MCDC moved its offices again and in 2004, the co-op development center moved to Great Falls, when it reorganized as a non-profit and where it has remained to this day. A new full-time staff was hired to carry on the daily mission of co-op development after the MCDC move to Great Falls.
Following the move, MCDC continued to grow as staff took on more co-op development projects and assisted with creation of cooperatives in the agricultural, retail and service sectors Jergeson served on the MCDC Board of Directors throughout this period and was elected its President in 2016. Under his leadership, MCDC has spearheaded new co-op development projects for workers, housing, investment, and local food systems and Jergeson is eager to see these initiatives succeed in Montana’s most rural communities. He is particularly interested in how these new cooperatives fare in producing value-added products and raising local investment dollars, which he says will “keep more profits and capital in the rural communities they serve.”
Although Jergeson is excited about MCDC’s new initiatives and the potential for new co-op development projects, he felt it was time to leave on a “high note.” He remains optimistic as he has seen the “younger generation serving on co-op boards bring new energy” to MCDC’s newest cooperative businesses and that “finding ways to spark their interest will be important as MCDC moves forward.”