Little Bowdon believed it could
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|Video: A Purpose-Driven Community (produced by Clarice L. Kesler, NDAREC)
by Luann Dart
Patti Patrie’s voice momentarily thickens with emotion as she talks about her small community’s colossal success in keeping a local business viable.
As the Bowdon Meat Processing cooperative re-opens the local meat processing facility in the community of 130 people, it seems to have the recipe for success – a reputation dating back to 1940, a forward-thinking young manager and a solid foundation of supporters like Patrie.
“Over time, you think, ‘Did we do this because we did not want to die as a town or did we do it because we have a belief in rural North Dakota?’ and it’s more a belief in rural North Dakota, that we have a future,” she says.
Community steps forward
The story began nearly six years ago when the previous owner of Bowdon Locker and Grocery, Tim Reberg, died in 2008, leaving his family unable to continue to operate the business.
So the Bowdon Development Center Inc., which formed in 2001 to repurpose the community’s former school building, helped launch the Bowdon Community Cooperative to purchase the grocery store.
“We were fearful that no one else would buy it and it would close. We thought if it closed in Bowdon and our school was closed, we’re done. The people really rallied and it never closed a day,” says Patrie, a Bowdon resident who leads the Bowdon Development Center Inc.
Saving the meat processing facility would be a more difficult task.
The facility, which dates back to 1940, had a reputation in central North Dakota, but the dated building could no longer pass inspections. So the community began planning a new facility, says Bob Martin, president of the cooperative and a local farmer/rancher.
“Every small town in North Dakota is trying something with economic development to keep them alive. It just seemed reasonable. That had been such a large part of Bowdon all these years, it was much needed in the area and had been successful,” Martin says. “My main concern is to keep the town viable.”
With technical assistance from the Rural Electric and Telecommunications Development Center, which operates under the umbrella of the North Dakota Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives and the North Dakota Association of Telecommunications Cooperatives, the community formed the Bowdon Meat Processing cooperative and raised $1.2 million in funding through grants, loans and an equity drive.
Seventy-two members of the cooperative purchased $100 membership shares, and 109 preferred shares at $5,500 per share were sold to raise equity. Financing came from Bank Forward in Carrington, Northern Plains Electric Cooperative’s revolving loan fund and the Rural Development Finance Corporation. Grants were also obtained from a variety of sources, including a U.S. Department of Agriculture value-added producer grant.
“USDA invests in cooperative and business enterprises to improve and diversify our rural economies,” says Jasper Schneider, North Dakota’s state director for USDA Rural Development. “This financial support helps builds stronger, self-sustaining communities. USDA is proud to be a partner on the Bowdon Meat Processing plant as the project offers new income opportunities for farmers and ranchers, fuels innovation and creates jobs.”
“It was not easy,” Patrie says of the equity drive. “People bought in not necessarily to make money on dividends, but because they believed our town needed a meat plant, that it was the best economic project that made sense for our community. I would have done anything to make sure that we broke escrow. We could not let this fall through the cracks and I was not the only one who felt that way, but I’m more emotional about it.”
“It looked like a completely hopeless situation,” says Larry Crowder, a board member who moved to Bowdon four years ago, describing meetings where only six shares had been sold. “This did not phase these people at all. They are tenacious. They never had a doubt and it feels good to have it operating.”
The cooperative incorporated in 2010, after two years of conducting feasibility studies, planning and raising funds, and held its first annual meeting in 2012, electing an eight-member board of directors: Martin as president; Corey Hart, Chaseley, vice president; Gary Heintz, Chaseley, secretary; Paul Brown, Bismarck, treasurer; Larry Crowder, Bowdon; Mike Flick, Bowdon; Lynn Homelvig, Sheyenne; and Arvid Rader, Mandan.
That same year, the former building was torn down. Then the next phase began – construction of a new facility to fill the vacant lot on Bowdon’s main street.
“It’s been interesting and it’s been trying, but it’s worthwhile for the community,” says Rader, who initially invested in the cooperative because he has relatives in the Bowdon area.
“This project demonstrates an innovative way to build a new business in a very rural community,” says Lori Capouch, director of the Rural Electric and Telecommunications Development Center. “They knew they were in a good location for a small meat plant and that the local producers needed one to help better manage their operations. The problem was there was no one who wanted to build and operate the plant in Bowdon. They overcame that dilemma by forming a cooperative to raise the equity, secure the financing and operate the plant. It truly is one of the best examples I have witnessed of a community working to build together.”
Luann Dart is a freelance writer and editor who lives near Elgin.