Columbia Falls to Apply for $1 Million Grant for Industrial Park Development

Plan for public infrastructure development yet to be detailed

By Clare Menzel
Columbia Falls city manager Susan Nicosia, describes zoning plans to Flathead County Commissioner Pam Holmquist and Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney on May 18, 2016. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

After an Oct. 4 meeting with U.S. Economic Development Administration representative Kirk Keysor, Columbia Falls city manager Susan Nicosia says the city plans to move forward with an application for a $1 million Economic Development Assistance grant.

“The plan would be to use the funds for public infrastructure in the Columbia Falls Industrial Park,” Nicosia wrote in an email.

The 110-acre industrial park sits just north of BNSF Railway’s rail line through Columbia Falls, and city officials hope the area will foster economic development. In the wake of recent Weyerhaeuser closures, the park is becoming an increasingly central piece of the town’s economic plan for the future. It needs paved roads, a working sewage system, and fire hydrants to flourish, Nicosia said last year before the city established the zone as a Targeted Economic Development District (TEDD).

Though Keysor said he couldn’t comment on the full merits of the project without seeing more details, he did say he thinks it “would be competitive based on what we talked about (on Oct. 4).”

The EDA grants funds in order to promote innovation and competitiveness, preparing American regions for growth and success in the worldwide economy. To be eligible for the grant, the area designated by the application needs to have a 24-month unemployment rate higher than the national average, per capita income 80 percent or less of the national average, or recent layoffs of at least one percent of the civilian labor force. Based on census tract information, Columbia Falls qualifies on all three counts, according to Nicosia.

During the two-step application process, the city will first submit a proposal, and about two weeks later, they’ll either receive a notice that the project is not eligible, or an invitation to submit a full application. It typically takes 30 to 40 days to prepare this application, Keysor said. A review committee that assembles on the final Thursday of each month will then look at the application during their next scheduled meeting. The committee can deny the application, or add additional conditions, often related to environmental or engineering concerns. Angela Martinez, the EDA regional grand officer based in Denver, will make the final call on the approval of funds.

“It’s a competitive process,” Keysor said. “(A successful application) depends on what applications … it goes up against.”

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