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Spokane business owner Rich Cowan pioneered the acclaimed film and video production company North by Northwest Productions. As its CEO and President, Rich has worked with his partners to create sustainable jobs while bringing in millions of dollars spent on location in Eastern Washington. Rich’s firm has created more than 45 feature films distributed throughout the world. Rich himself has directed several movies, including The Basket, an award-winning family film, shot in Spokane and Whitman Counties. Rich and his company have received regional and national recognition for their success, putting Spokane and Eastern Washington on the map as an attractive destination for film and production work.
Background: Rich was born in Spokane to George and Betty Cowan. His family has a history of military and public service. Rich’s grandfather, Martin Knutson, served during World War I. He returned to become a public school teacher in a one room schoolhouse. Rich’s father, George, served in the Air Force during the Korean War.
Growing up, Rich had dreams of flying, earning his pilot’s license in high school. Rich also made time to achieve the rank of Eagle Scout before heading off to college. A die-hard Cougar, he attended Washington State University where he also served for six years as a firefighter/EMT. Rich received his undergraduate degree from what is now the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication (cum laude) and a Masters of Science degree in Human Nutrition, both from WSU.
Profession: Rich began his television career at KHQ-TV with the PM Magazine show. One of his assignments was spending a week with the legendary Congressman Tom Foley, documenting his work in the District and Washington DC, before being named Speaker of the House. Rich eventually became the station’s Community Affairs Director.
In 1990, Rich created a business plan, secured investors and raised capital to form North by Northwest Productions, which currently employs 40 full-time workers in Spokane and Boise. NxNW has 45 feature length films in its repertoire. The Basket, a film about ethnic intolerance set against the backdrop of World War I and the birth of the sport of basketball, was directed by Cowan. The widely seen film was awarded the Movie Guide Award for best family film (known as the Christian Oscars), beating out four Disney films. It also won the Crystal Heart award at the Heartland Film Festival.
Now entering its third decade of business, North by Northwest has since expanded to five other Divisions, which produce TV commercials, industrial videos, documentaries and websites. Besides the immediate financial impact at the time of filming, North by Northwest promotes positive images of Eastern Washington throughout the US and the world through the company’s domestic and foreign film Distribution Division. Inland Business Catalyst Magazine featured Cowan as one of the “Power 25” business professionals in the region, and credited his company’s efforts as holding “powerful potential for our region’s further economic growth.”
Family: Rich is the father of two grown children who attended public school in Spokane’s District 81, both graduating from Lewis and Clark High School. Kristin is now a professional ice skater, primarily with Holiday on Ice in Europe, and has appeared as a principal performer in more than 20 countries. Casey, a 2012 graduate candidate at Marquette University, is beginning his accounting career at PricewaterhouseCoopers.
Community Service: While at the helm of NxNW, Rich contributed hundreds of hours of video production services to dozens of non-profit agencies in Eastern Washington and North Idaho, including work for: Women Helping Women, Vanessa Behan Crisis Nursery, Ronald McDonald House, Gonzaga University’s Coaches vs. Cancer, YWCA, and many others. His work in the community and the media industry has been recognized and he continues to be a featured speaker at area events.