Opinion

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Guest Column

The Relocation Part of Economic Development

If creating a thriving community with career opportunities for our children and grandchildren is a priority, we must support our educational institutions

I love spring. This year when the snow finally melted the perennials in my flowerbed were already poking up through the dirt and the persistence of my peonies filled my heart with joy. Maybe it is all the homesteaders in my family tree, but more likely it was growing up with my Grandma Alicia that made me love flower gardening. I’m in love with the idea of possibilities and bursts of color.

Much of what we do at Montana West is termed “Economic Gardening.” We tend the local businesses in whatever way allows them to grow and we cultivate with the help of our partners and investor members an environment where entrepreneurs will flourish. Our economic garden is full of all sizes and types of flora with a variety of needs. Some are flashy and exotic while others are native species who have been in the landscape forever, but they have all chosen to grow here in the Flathead.

Once in a while, however, we have an opportunity to do “old-fashioned” economic development and try to convince a company from out of state to consider the Flathead as a possible site for expansion or relocation. This is not encouraging what is already in your garden, but transplanting from another climate. They usually arrive without much notice and are comparing the Flathead to other similar types of communities in the Pacific Northwest or the Rockies. Discussion starts with possible building locations, available workforce, numbers of jobs to be created, salary levels, air service and incentives. There is always some discussion of taxes. Eventually the conversation turns to neighborhoods, safety and schools. Drawing on personal experience it is easy to assure them that K-8 schools around the valley provide a great small-school experience and that our high schools provide exceptional programs like the International Baccalaureate program, Project Lead the Way for engineering, national award winning Speech and Debate programs, FFA and the Student Built Home program. These are outstanding programs and, while we have good private schools in the valley, I can honestly say that a student looking for a great education can find it at public school.

CEOs looking to move tech or tech-dependent businesses here are looking for both an educated workforce and education opportunities for their own children. Continuing to invest in our students is a great plan for their future and also solid economic development, which is why I will be voting yes for the School District 5 High School General Fund Levy this month.

While I am repeatedly impressed by the quality of the teachers and the level of instruction students receive, I was taken aback last fall when my freshman informed me that there were not enough textbooks for everyone in his math class and the teacher couldn’t make copies because there was copy rationing! I think we can all agree that it is common sense that instructional materials need to be available to all students. School District 5 hasn’t passed a levy since 2007. You might be thinking, “Didn’t we just passed something last year?” That was a bond, not a levy. What’s the difference? Bonds are for specific buildings. Levies are for learning, i.e. computers, software, textbooks, curriculums and activities. Want to learn more? Visit www.sd5.k12.mt.us.

If you share my love of flowers and education, you may also want to take a Bibler Gardens Tour in May. All proceeds go to the Flathead Valley Community College scholarship program and the garden is outstanding. Buy tickets on the www.fvcc.edu website.

If creating a thriving community with career opportunities for our children and grandchildren is a priority, we must support our educational institutions. Levy ballots will be mailed the week of April 22 and are due back by May 7. Not registered to vote? There is still time! Contact the Flathead County Election Office.

Kim Morisaki is the business development director at Montana West Economic Development, economic gardener, strategic doer and  entrepreneur enthusiast.