Fall 2009

[Alumni News]

Richard E. Winnie

Making the Case for Micro-enterprise

Economist and lawyer Richard Winnie (’69, Economics) has an illustrious career in decentralized, local development that enables small communities to capitalize on their own unique assets instead of relying on outside investment.

Richard Winnie

Now County Counsel to Alameda County, Calif., Winnie works with The New America Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan public policy institute in Washington, D.C., that fosters micro-enterprises. These are small ventures—little shops, restaurants, home-based-companies and contractors—usually with fewer than five employees. Today they comprise an extraordinary 88 percent of all California businesses. Micro-development includes business management training, business plan development and micro-loans. Grass roots micro-enterprises that make use of indigenous assets are more resistant to boom and bust cycles, Winnie says, both locally and globally. When the economy is strong, large corporations hire a great many people, he points out, but they lay off a great many when times are hard.

A Eureka native and 2009 Distinguished Alumni Award winner, he says the Eureka waterfront is a prime example of local economic development. “You have the skills and commerce right here, and a kingpin of the Humboldt County economy, HSU,” which supplies intellectual capital on home ground, as well as cutting-edge research and partnerships with nascent enterprises. In hard times, such assets must be augmented to weather the storm, says Winnie, whose interest in decentralized development started when he was a teenager. While attending Humboldt State, he worked in the Eureka city manager’s office, getting a first-hand look at municipal governance. For 30 years, “my focus was always local.”

He earned his master’s degree at Berkeley, but when he was just out of high school, “HSU was perfect for me. I could enjoy outdoor adventures and [the campus] was small enough to know people. And I was close to my profs. If I had gone to Berkeley when I was 18, I would’ve been smothered.”

Winnie has served as staff attorney to the California cities of Berkeley, Oakland and Santa Rosa, in addition to extensive international work. His long history of civic service dates to his years at HSU, where he served on the Associated Students Council, volunteered with the campus Young Democrats and gave the valedictory address to his graduating class.