Jim Bowman

Jim Bowman became president of the Missoula Economic Partnership this summer. The venture will use its budget, currently at about $2.3 million, to create 2,500 jobs through economic development. This photo was taken in July, shortly after he relocated to Missoula.

Jim Bowman doesn't have an official office or business cards. No permanent staff or letterhead.

But the new president of the Missoula Economic Partnership is an idea man, and he has plenty of those.

Bowman took the helm of the recently formed economic development organization on June 1. He's got ideas about how the IT system will be set up, what the marketing plan will look like and what kind of people need to sit on the Missoula Economic Partnership board, which Bowman hopes to finalize in the next six months.

The entire project needs to be built and Bowman was chosen to first customize, then guide it.

Last week, he was camped out in a makeshift office at the Riverworks Inc. office on North Higgins Avenue. He's hoping his lone employee, Brigitta Freer, now working on a temporary contract, will become his permanent senior project manager.

But even before Bowman talks about his operational and organizational plan, the Illinois native talks about ideas he hopes will make the Missoula Economic Partnership a leader in creating prosperity in the Missoula area.

Bowman recently helped judge the International Economic Development Council's international best practices awards forum in Washington, D.C.

"I want to find good ideas and bring them home; I actually found some really good nuggets (at the IEDC awards)," he said. "Sustainability initiatives, environmental industry focuses, some entrepreneurial initiatives, tech-led initiatives that I think could fit here."

The Missoula Economic Partnership will use its budget - sitting at about $2.3 million now - to bolster the economic development goals of the Best Place Project, which hopes to create 2,500 jobs by recruiting new businesses, retaining existing businesses and redeveloping facilities and infrastructure in the Missoula area.

Retaining and expanding existing Missoula area businesses will be "the single most important thing we'll do this year," Bowman said. Already, he's at work on several projects.

Bowman has headed three similar projects during his career. With the exception of a stint in Idaho Falls, Idaho, his work has focused on Illinois. There, Bowman helped expand Western Illinios University and restore Moline's riverfront area.

When KONE Elevators and Escalators threatened to move its headquarters to Atlanta, Ga., Bowman helped to keep the company - and 250 good-paying jobs - in Moline.

Helping people is what Bowman thinks economic development is all about, and now he wants to help people in Missoula.

"Of course, if we're creating jobs, you create family and living opportunities. This is about creating wealth, the more wealth we can create in Missoula, the quality of life increases. We can have a more productive, safe and unique place to live and play," he said.

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The Rocky Mountain West has long called Bowman's name, he said. An avid snow skier, Bowman is anxious to hike, fish and float during his first summer in Missoula.

His son Joel, who is 21, and several of Joel's friends helped Bowman make the move from Moline, arriving in Missoula last week.

Joel is an avid snowboarder who manages a terrain park at a ski hill in Illinois. Bowman's daughters, Emma and Anna, are high-schoolers who will stay with their mom in Illinois.

All three are considering the University of Montana for college.

Bowman himself is more than excited about the opportunities the university can help bring to Missoula on the economic development front.

The idea of knowledge or technology-led initiatives is something Bowman wants to focus on and grow through the Missoula Economic Partnership.

The key, he said, is to "meld higher education, science and innovation, equity and risk capital, incubation ... then mentoring and coaching to help existing businesses."

Other major sectors of the economy, like the service industry, "will grow and thrive if we succeed in driving the basic businesses that generate and drive high-paying jobs," he said.

The old Smurfit-Stone Container Corp. millsite that was recently sold to Illinois-based developers Green Investment Group is among the projects already on Bowman's agenda - one he says could be a cornerstone of green growth here.

"I hope it becomes an opportunity to launch an environmental initiative in the Missoula Valley. Get the message out that we're clean, we're green and by the way, we've got a five-square-mile site that has many, many opportunities for clean and green development," he said.


Here's a Q&A with Bowman as he begins the heavy lifting of economic development in Missoula.

Q: Is there a certain philosophy you operate under when it comes to economic development? If so, what is it and how will you apply it to your work at MEP?

A: Economic development can be reduced to an equation: ED (BD + CD)L.

Meaning, economic development equals business development (comprised of business retention/expansion, and attraction/recruitment) plus community development (those catalytic place-based assets that make the community more attractive for business investment such as schools, parks, modes of transportation and cultural events) all multiplied by the public-private leadership. A leader is defined as any person or organization that is invested in the community and has everything to gain or lose if the ED organization succeeds or fails.

In addition, economic development is a process that begins when a community makes itself ready to accommodate the retention, startup, location, or expansion of an enterprise and occurs when a local economy is vitalized by the creation/retention of one or more jobs, has an increase in community wealth, an expanded tax base, or the useful distribution of capital that arrives from outside sources.

Q: Recruiting high-paying employers to the area is seen as key to positive economic development and something the Missoula Economic Partnership will focus on. What can MEP do to bring jobs to the Missoula area in the near future?

A: First, to clearly understand the needs and opportunities of our existing high-growth, high-impact firms. Once we know what they need and assist them to grow and expand and why they choose to conduct business here, we'll have a good idea of what industry sectors make sense in recruiting to Missoula and who will become a good "fit."

This is an expensive endeavor and we MUST ensure we carefully craft our attraction strategy that is very targeted and positons Missoula's assets to be matched to those firms who will want to invest capital and create well-paying jobs.

Q: What's the No. 1 goal you hope to accomplish with MEP during the next six months?

A: Establish a solid, functional, performanced-based organization whose reputation is second to none and is demonstrating effectiveness by working through a proven process to effectuate results. All of this will be based on a well thought-out strategic plan developed by the new MEP Board of Directors.

Q: Where do you see MEP in six months?

A: Having at least one to two good "wins" for business projects, executing an agressive marketing and communications program, introducing a functional business retention program, having a talent pool program plan in the works, and lauching a tech-led initiative with the University of Montana.

And of course, realizing a fully engaged and robust MEP Board of Directors.

 

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