Our Origin Story
In 1988, the James Irvine Foundation launched a Women’s Economic Development Initiative to address the needs of impoverished women. Their focus was to create self-sufficiency for low-to-moderate-income women through business ownership. Hearing about the initiative, the Ukiah Community Center convened meetings with more than two hundred women from Mendocino County. Their response was to create WEST (Women’s Economic Self Sufficiency Training). They successfully applied for and received a 4-year grant, and Sheilah Rogers became the first Director of West Enterprise Center DBA WEST Company.
Riding the wave of women’s empowerment, Sheilah intuitively understood that any serious attack on rural poverty was destined to fail if women are ignored or overlooked in business. She was determined to ensure that self-employment was recognized as a strategy to help women earn money. Within the rural sector, where most of the world's women are found, any economic development efforts must include the education and training of woman. Statistics have shown that education of woman raises family incomes and provide economic stability in any community. Over the next decade, Sheilah and dedicated colleagues prowled the halls of local and federal government offices to bring awareness of the social innovations needed to bring about change.
By 1999 when the next CEO, Pamela Paterson, assumed the role, big economic changes had landed hard on Mendocino County. The once booming timber industry had fallen to a trickle. And where fishing had once been plentiful, changes in climate, policy and distribution significantly impacted the industry’s ability to provide decent wages for a family. Pamela’s goal was to make sure that as a nonprofit organization, West Company would be able to deliver business counseling services to the entire community in need, including women owned businesses. Pamela created a solid platform to up-level training programs, provide counselors with specific expertise, and increase capital infusion by securing federal funding to host a Small Business Development Center (SBDC) and Woman’s Business Center. All services were to be delivered at no cost to county residents.
In 2017, Mary Anne Petrillo became the third executive to take the reins. Ms. Petrillo previously worked as a marketing and communications executive for Corporate Social Responsibility global campaigns for the silicon valley technology industry. In this new role, she advocates for rural small businesses to have equal opportunities to participate in the new economy. After 30 years, West Company will enter a new chapter as the WEST Business Development Center. Building on its history, it will now prepare entrepreneurs to adapt to rapid technology shifts, a mobile workforce and the growth of customization.
Small businesses are the heart of every community. The West Business Development Center will continue to support Mendocino County small business owners and the communities they serve so they may thrive in the decades ahead.