After working in community and economic development for 21 years in Havre for the Bear Paw Economic Development Corporation, I accepted the position of executive director of the Missoula Area Economic Development Corporation. I worked for that organization until 2011.
Mayor John Engen’s comments regarding economic development published in the Oct. 4 edition of the Missoulian, included the statement that in 2010 our community “didn’t have a cohesive, goal-oriented economic development program.” For that reason, he worked to establish the Missoula Economic Partnership. The city is contributing about $100,000 annually to MEP.
My purpose in writing this column is to highlight some the achievements of MAEDC during my tenure and to express my deepest appreciation for the commitment of several members of our board of directors and staff to helping our community.
In the fall of 2000, Pyramid Mountain Lumber in Seeley Lake announced that the company would be closing within a few months. A board member called me and asked what I would do to keep the company open. This was a challenge since I had just moved to Missoula from Havre, and the timber industry was nonexistent in that part of the state. I asked the board member if he knew the leadership of Pyramid Lumber. He did and we scheduled a meeting at which the company agreed to remain in business if the programs we discussed could actually help.
MAEDC took the leadership, assembled a team consisting of local and state government workers, and developed a financing package that enabled Pyramid to stay open. About 160 good-paying jobs were saved and the company is one of the few lumber producers still operating in Montana.
Another example of MAEDC’s achievements is the Montana Technology Enterprise Center (MonTEC). Working with the university and a local bank, as well as the federal Economic Development Administration, MAEDC was able to facilitate purchase of the property located on East Broadway, complete a comprehensive rebuild and manage the small-business incubator. Several companies, many of which were seeking to commercialize university research, got their start at MonTEC.
With regard to recruitment, MAEDC worked in 2005 to bring a DirecTV customer service center to Missoula. With help from the Montana Board of Investments and the Department of Commerce’s Workforce Training Program, the company created about 800 jobs with good benefits. AT&T purchased DirecTV last year, and the facility continues to make significant contributions to our economy. It is located at the Missoula County Industrial Park, and the county was also instrumental in making the project happen.
Other examples of MAEDC’s achievements include helping the Good Food Store successfully expand by moving to their current location, assisting Neptune Aviation when the U.S. Forest Service cancelled their contract, working with the state to establish a loan fund to support Montana’s wood products industry in the wake of the great recession, and securing funding to assist with the cleanup of the old Sawmill District.
Credit for these and many other achievements goes first to the several members of MAEDC’s board of directors who spent hundreds of volunteer hours working on projects that have helped our community. I also want to recognize the important role of MAEDC’s staff. Along with many private businesses and the university, MAEDC’s membership included the city of Missoula and Missoula County. The city’s annual contribution to MAEDC was around $14,000.
I welcome any comments or questions from readers.