Missoula’s economy is poised to take advantage of opportunities in the Bakken, according to the Missoula Economic Partnership.
“We’re kind of positioning Missoula as the entry point, surprisingly enough, to the Bakken,” president James Grunke said last week to members of the Missoula City Council.
Initiated by Mayor John Engen after the economy crashed, the Missoula Economic Partnership works on economic development. The city of Missoula invested $500,000 in the program when it launched in 2011, and Wednesday, Grunke and the MEP’s director of business development shared several updates with members of the council.
Grunke kicked off his report touting the opportunities in the Bakken, noting its potential despite being hundreds of miles away. The oil fields are of interest statewide, he said, and servicing the Bakken on the manufacturing front requires being several hundred miles away to tap an available workforce.
In conjunction with the Montana World Trade Center, the MEP created a comprehensive 48-page manual for taking advantage of business activities in the Bakken, Grunke said. He said the MEP is taking the presentation outside Montana and all the way to London and Amsterdam, although it isn’t using investor dollars for the travel.
“It’s been well received,” Grunke said of the manual.
One of the major impediments for business activity in Missoula is the high cost of airfare, and last year, the MEP tried to secure a contract with Frontier Airlines. Brigitta Miranda-Freer, the MEP’s director of business development, told the council the deal fell through because in the end, Frontier had fewer aircraft available in its fleet.
However, she said the MEP, the Missoula County Airport Authority and Destination Missoula recently met with Frontier again to make the business case for Missoula one more time. This fall, the MEP will follow up with Frontier, and she said the hope is to initiate service in spring 2014.
“We know it’s something we need to tackle for the benefit of our community,” Miranda-Freer said.
The MEP also is working on a “homegrown solution” for in-state service, a difficult task because the state is so large, she said. A local former pilot is working on the idea as a pet project.
She said the MEP is constantly connecting with entrepreneurs. In just one week on the recruitment front, the partnership met with a medical device manufacturer that could bring 100 jobs here, a technology company from San Francisco that could mean up to 300 jobs, a service provider that’d bring a handful and a manufacturing firm that’d mean 50 to 100 jobs.
In one case, a company started the conversation with the MEP about bringing a customer care center to Missoula, she said. Then, after the partnership linked the company with local entrepreneurs, the company expressed interest in opening a larger facility here, she said.
“Will this prospect pull the trigger on Missoula?” Miranda-Freer said.
She doesn’t know yet, but the MEP continues to illustrate the programs that are available to different businesses that can be deployed quickly and impact their bottom lines. Just this week, the MEP helped a local company apply for a grant that would lead to a 15 percent to 20 percent expansion, or 50 jobs in the next two years.
“I’m very excited about this,” said Miranda-Freer, who said she’ll know the outcome of the application in three months. “It’s a good, longstanding company in our community, and it’s been a pleasure to work with them.”