When Mayor John Engen started his Best Place Project last fall to foster economic development and prosperity in Missoula, he convened a team of advisers from the community. With their guidance – and with funding from St. Patrick Hospital, two Atlanta-based experts were hired to assess Missoula’s economic development efforts.

Last week, the consultants released their findings, the most startling of which was a recommendation to completely reorganize the organizations that currently work on behalf of Missoula’s economic development (see accompanying story).

Here are some of the suggestions offered by the consultants, Garner Economics and National Community Development Service:

  • To attract and recruit investors, tourists and new businesses, Missoula needs: a comprehensive website that provides useful, valuable information about the city and its surrounding area; a unified brand and logo to raise its profile nationally and globally; and a community vision, led by the Chamber of Commerce, that brings together diverse groups to reach consensus on community goals and objectives. The city also needs free wireless Internet service downtown to send a message of support to entrepreneurs and others that Missoula has embraced technology. And, it could use a venture capital fund or angel fund to assist small business entrepreneurs in new business start-ups, as well as a city-county financial partnership that creates a fund to close deals for projects that pay higher per-capita wages than Missoula’s average.
  • Missoula County’s economy has several specialized areas, measured by employment. They are: arts, entertainment and recreation; retail trade; real estate, rental and leasing; health care and social assistance; accommodation; and food service.   
  • Among Missoula’s many assets for economic development: proximity to highways, immediate airport access, skilled/educated work force, availability of forest products, adequate wastewater treatment capacity and sewer lines to industrial sites, outdoor amenities, cultural opportunities and good places to eat. All of those define Missoula as a high-quality place to live and recreate.
  • Among Missoula’s many challenges: It’s not centrally located for a national market and has a high degree of air pollution. And, it lacks agricultural products for food processing; manufacturing options and attractive industrial sites; tax incentives for businesses; funding for economic development; and an economic development strategic plan.
  • Areas in which Missoula could successfully grow, create wealth and provide above-average wages: creative professional services, including computer design systems, marketing services, biological research. Also, shared back-office services, which include call centers, payroll and bookkeeping services, and facilities support. And, mobile entrepreneurs, including self-employed people and companies with the ability to locate anywhere in the world but choosing Missoula. Finally, medical and pharmaceutical wholesaling, including prescription drugs, medical supplies, laboratory and scientific equipment.
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