The U.S. Department of Agriculture has awarded The Washington State Grange and Northwest Cooperative Development Center grants covering the states of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. The grants will fund the Legacy Project that will engage small business advisors located in rural communities and trusted by the businesses they serve. The Washington State Grange and the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians (ATNI) will partner with NWCDC in Washington to help deliver technical assistance and support.

Rural business owners without a clear exit strategy may benefit by selling to their employees through either a cooperative or an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP). These models offer owners a viable exit strategy, offer opportunities for rural workers to retain their jobs, allow for the retention of local ownership, and maintain economic vibrancy and identity for the community.

By 2024, all “Baby Boomers” (those born from 1946 through 1964) will be at least 60 years old. As business owners retire, they may not readily find a buyer or have family members interested in keeping the business operational. NWCDC and the Washington State Grange want to make sure that co-ops are one option under consideration. Executive Director Diane Gasaway notes, “Small business advisors are the target audience for their potential to establish a continuing education pathway.”  

The grant will provide funding for identifying business advisors in several Pacific Northwest rural communities and creating educational workshops on the cooperative business model:

Washington: Aberdeen, Centralia, Colfax, Longview, Moses Lake, Mt. Vernon, Port Angeles, Shelton-Olympia, Toppenish, Wenatchee

Idaho: Salmon, Hagerman, and Driggs

Oregon: La Grande, Ontario, Redmond, Coos Bay, Klamath Falls

According to Gasaway, The Legacy Project will help support small business success, build an entrepreneurial ecosystem, and maintain good jobs in rural communities.

The timing of this grant coincides with the passage of the Main Street Employee Ownership Act. This landmark legislation passed with broad bipartisan support. It adds assisting with worker co-ops and conversions of small businesses to worker co-ops to the mandate of the Small Business Administration. Small Business Development Center will be incorporating technical assistance for worker co-op conversions into their programs and the Cooperative Development Centers stand ready to assist.

NWCDC, a 501c3 based in Olympia, Washington with the mission to  promote community economic development through the cooperative business model since 1979 is a member of the Democracy at Work Institute’s Workers to Owners Collaborative ( NWCDC  provides technical assistance to new and existing cooperatives in the pacific northwest states of Idaho, Oregon, and Washington.

The Washington State Grange is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization rooted in agriculture and rural community service. The Grange has a history of creating and promoting cooperatives, which continue to help rural Washington today.