2018 North Country Symposium Review | St. Lawrence University North Country Symposium

2018 North Country Symposium Review

16th Annual North Country Symposium


Held on April 16, 2018, at

Eben Holden Conference Center, St. Lawrence University

Supported by St. Lawrence University’s Ellen C. Burt ’42 Endowment
for North Country Education

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Symposium Program

Video-record of proceedings

Keynote Slide Deck

The 16th annual North Country Symposium, held at St. Lawrence University’s Eben Holden Conference Center on April 16th, 2018, focused on the role of joint ownership enterprises (such as cooperatives and Employee Stock Ownership Plans) in the future of the North Country.

Keynoting the event was Mr. Doug O’Brien, president and CEO of the National Cooperative Business Association and formerly Senior Policy Advisor for Rural Affairs to the White House Domestic Policy Council. 

Cooperatives and other businesses that are jointly owned by farmers, employees or customers have a long history in strengthening rural communities, through agricultural and rural electric cooperatives, as well as credit unions. Cooperatives and employee-owned companies remain promising models to confront the challenges faced today by rural areas like the North Country.  Such models can help address issues of scale, limited capital, production gaps, and excessive costs, while providing the benefits of local business ownership.  Cooperatives can empower more people to participate in the economy who would otherwise be unable to.  And they can be the model to keep a business open and locally owned in a succession situation.

This year’s Symposium included the following:

  • Mr. O’Brien discussed the history and role of joint ownership businesses in rural economies, shared case studies, and suggested possible applications in the North Country. 

  • A panel of representatives of existing North Country and New York joint ventures shared their goals, experiences and lessons learned.  The panelists were Gail Orr for the Once Again Nut Butter Company, Dan Maitland for Stewarts Shops, Melinda Little for the Saranac Lake Community Store, and Karen St. Hilaire for the North Country Showcase. 

  • A panel of representatives of organizations that support joint ownership enterprises provided invaluable knowledge on starting and growing such enterprises. Panelists included Joe Marraffino for the Democracy At Work Institute, Sarah Martin for the Cooperative Development Institute, Frank Cetero for the Onondaga Small Business Development Center, and Stephen Davis for USDA Rural Development.

  • Comments from Jon Cardinal, Director of Economic Development for U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s office.

  • Small discussion groups looking at the following elements of creating a supportive infrastructure:Agriculture & Food; Meeting Community Needs (transportation, energy, affordable housing, childcare, etc.); Preserving Legacy Businesses - Converting existing businesses into coops or ESOPs; Employee-owned Businesses  - Launching new businesses as coops or ESOPs and including Workers' Cooperatives; and Credit unions, financing, and technical assistance for Cooperatives and ESOPs.

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