Missoula Economic Partnership leaders completed a crucial step in building their program Thursday, with the announcement that a longtime economic development professional from Illinois will be its first president.
Jim Bowman was named to head the public-private partnership by board chairman Jeff Fee, president and CEO of St. Patrick Hospital.
The economic partnership was created to help drive the Best Place Project, an economic development program founded by Mayor John Engen in 2010.
Bowman, 51, is leaving his hometown of Moline, Ill., to start in Missoula on June 1.
"We've been talking about economic development for a year," Fee said. "With Jim, we'll begin taking action."
Engen, too, was excited to have Bowman in place, saying it is now time to get things done.
Bowman's long resume of accomplishments in Moline and unique philosophy set him apart from the other candidates, Engen said.
"He can make deals and that's really important," the mayor said.
Engen also noted that Bowman's economic development philosophy centers on helping make human lives better, another factor that set him apart.
Missoula Economic Partnership will be the fourth private nonprofit economic development project Bowman has led.
He most recently served as the executive director of Renew Moline, a key player in economic development in the Quad Cities, on the Illinois-Iowa border.
Creating a "brand" for the Missoula partnership will be vital, Bowman said. He is looking to create a team and office "so people can feel like this is the place where things happen."
Along with initial setup duties, the project's leaders want Bowman "spending the majority of his time" integrating into the community, meeting with investors and community leaders, and making connections in the area's economic development arena, Fee said.
An avid skier and outdoorsman, Bowman has been eyeing a move to the Rocky Mountains for some time.
But when it comes to economic development prospects in Missoula, Bowman is most excited about the people.
Education levels, work ethic and productivity are high in Missoula, he said.
"I have and am studying the facts and figures, the demographics, the stats of Missoula and I am very impressed with the makeup of the work force," Bowman said.
The University of Montana was also a key component in Bowman's decision to relocate.
"I would not have taken this job if it wasn't for the UM," he said. "It is so critical for today's world. An institution of higher learning in the community needs to be a cornerstone for economic development."
Bowman sees Missoula's location as both a "great thing and a challenge."
"We're going to put Missoula on the map in a big way," he said. "Not that it's not already there, but from an economic development point of view, we're going to put Missoula on the map."
The Best Place Project aims to help create jobs, attract capital investment, and retain and recruit strong businesses in the area.
The Missoula Economic Partnership board announced in February it has raised $2.3 million. The goal is $3.2 million, and that money will help "recruit businesses, retain existing businesses and redevelop facilities and infrastructure that support businesses in Missoula."