My Home in the PNW

I started this challenge to myself to get me back into the practice of writing down my thoughts on the co-op world. When I writing and editing my thesis, I felt too guilty writing anything except the dissertation. That said, it feels a bit indulgent to talk about the Northwest Cooperative Development Center, but this agency is on the list for today, so bear with me!


NWCDC has its beginnings 40 years ago when people from the regions co-ops (REI, PCC, GHC, and others) felt that the co-op community needed an organization to promote the cooperative model. It started out at the Northwest Cooperative Federation and the area included Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Northern California. While NWCF was a “clearinghouse” and membership organization, in 1986, it created the Puget Sound Development Foundation (PSDF). This organization shares the mission that we still strive to meet: “to foster community economic development primarily through the cooperative model.” At the time, PSDF was based in Seattle, but eventually the organizations merged into the NWCDC in 2000 with Audrey Malan leading the organizational effort and the agency was housed within the Washington Rural Electric Association. In 2013, the Center moved out of the WREA lcoation and into its new offices in the old train depot.

In Spring of 2003, the current era began with the hiring of Diane Gasaway as Executive Director with the mandate to obtain funding and provide development technical assistance to the region. Since then, NWCDC has grown to a staff of 8, partnered with ROC USA and has, at any given time, over 50 development projects. The Center has become something of an expert in homecare co-ops as well as housing co-ops through the ROC-USA model and became an early advocate for working with Small Business Development Centers after passage of the Main Street Employee Ownership Act through the Legacy Project.

The service area expanded to include Hawai’i but has also contracted as other co-op development centers developed in California, Alaska, and Hawai’i (two of my former co-workers work for the Kohala Center.

I basically begged NWCDC to let me in–back in 2013 I sent a letter with my resume. We had been planning to move west for a while (although only a few people in Madison knew that), but it was past time for leaving UCC. Nevertheless, I definitely wanted a landing spot before leaving. The Masters program and some work with Cooperative Care (on behalf of the UW Center for Co-ops) created a calling that I couldn’t resist. Fortunately for me, the Center agreed!

At the same time, my colleague Deborah Craig was hired. We both have extensive work experience in co-ops (mine with Union Cab and Deborah’s with Bellingham Food Co-op and Circle of Life) and we were both Peer Advisors with Democracy at Work Network.

It is really a great team of people that NWCDC has cultivated and collected over the years. People dedicated to the mission of cooperative development and helping people gain control over their economy through democratic collaboration. There isn’t a day that I drag myself to work and each day when I leave the office, I know that I have helped to make the world a better place (even in just this tiny corner of the PNW).

About John McNamara

John spent 26 years with Union Cab of Madison Cooperative and currently helps develop co-ops in the Pacific Northwest. He holds a Ph.D. in Business Administration and Masters in Management: Co-operatives and Credit Unions from Saint Mary's University.
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