Last week one of the chief architects of the governor’s new statewide business plan, the Main Street Montana Project, was in Kalispell to further explain the breadth of opportunities and strategies for fueling economic activity.
Larry Simkins, the CEO and president of The Washington Companies in Missoula, told the crowd at the monthly Kalispell Chamber of Commerce luncheon that Montana has likely never had a comprehensive blueprint such as the one that emerged from 10 months of meetings and surveys with communities and private businesses.
Unveiled earlier this month by Gov. Steve Bullock, the plan that Simkins helped craft alongside Bill Johnstone, CEO of Davidson Cos., was the result of input from more than 3,000 residents and 2,000 completed surveys. It features several key themes that emerged as the basis for achieving economic growth and sustainability, including five pillars to build on and 116 objectives to strive toward.
“We’re committed to tangible outcomes. This is not a plan to pat ourselves on the backs. We wanted a blueprint that can be implemented,” Simkins said. “This is nonpartisan, driven by the private sector across the state with practical, achievable goals. It’s not something to gather dust.”
So what’s in the plan?
The 95-page Main Street Montana Plan covers a whole range of issues, ideas and information.
Overall, the state’s top strengths that were identified from surveys were: quality of life (outdoor recreation and environment); no sales tax; and safety and infrastructure. Business owners and respondents across the state were fairly similar in their picks, according to the plan, although those in North Central Montana also selected proximity to Canada, while the east side selected “work ethic.”
The top weaknesses identified were low wages, lack of growth/economic development strategy and cost of living.
The plan identified specific issues related to counties, and in the Flathead County, the top response focused on increasing the length of the summer tourist season.
The plan also gathered a consensus of five pillars for economic growth:
Train, educate tomorrow’s workforce today
The importance of a well-educated, trained and skilled workforce was the most consistent and frequent message that surfaced across the state, according to Simkins. Key ideas include focusing resources on pre-school through adulthood education; aligning the state’s educational system and programs with the needs of a changing economy; and engaging the private sector in developing job skills through apprenticeships and other programs.
Create a climate that attracts, retains and grows businesses
Although Montana remains a good place to do business, more improvements can be made, the plan emphasizes. Key ideas include promoting a business-friendly climate while making government more efficient and effective and improve coordination of state, tribal and local development programs and agencies.
Build upon Montana’s economic foundation
Boosting transportation and communications infrastructure would improve the state’s ability to export and trade, according to the plan. The plan also stated as a key, responsibly developing Montana’s natural resources for long-term economic growth, while helping local communities plan for and adjust to impact of development. At the same time, the plan notes the importance of “protecting Montana’s valued quality of life and outdoor heritage.”
The state and its businesses should do a better job of promoting Montana and its unique brand to recruit businesses, tourists and workers, the plan states. There should also be an enhanced promotion of Montana-made products and exports.
Nurture emerging industries and businesses and encourage innovation
Montana businesses need to increasingly be a part of the technology industry, which is a major source of job and wage growth, the plan states. The key strategies include supporting education and job training programs and opportunities; and enhancing the university system as an incubator of new ideas and technology.
To read the entire plan, visit www.mainstreetmontanaproject.com
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