Tuesday’s Missoulian featured a story documenting a trip to Washington, D.C., by county and city officials to advocate for Missoula’s BUILD grant application. While the story covers basics like cost and who attended, it left out the bigger story — community collaboration at its finest.

County government partnered with the private sector to put together an advocacy effort aimed at securing $23 million in federal funding to build infrastructure between Mullan Road and West Broadway. This should spur development in the area, bringing new homes, expanded business opportunities and even a VA clinic to the community. Additionally, Grant Creek will be restored, adding recreation opportunities and improving wildlife habitat.

This is the third application the county has submitted for this project. Last year, Kalispell won grant funding for the Highway 93 bypass, in part due to their advocacy efforts in Washington. This year, the Missoula Area Chamber of Commerce looked to bring the same level of professionalism and application success to our community.

The Chamber approached the county about organizing a trip to meet with Montana’s congressional delegation and the U.S. Department of Transportation. The partnership would prove to be a good one. The county contributed grant application details and knowledge of the project while the Chamber was able to assemble a group of local business leaders and economic organizations to participate in the D.C. advocacy trip.

All told, the D.C. contingent was made up of 19 people representing county and city government, four economic organizations (the Missoula Area Chamber of Commerce, Missoula Organization of Realtors, Missoula Building Industry Association and Missoula Economic Partnership) and seven different businesses. Private sector attendees paid their own way. Their willingness to invest their own money without an expectation of return illustrates how important securing the BUILD grant is to the community.

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While in Washington, the group met with U.S. Sens. Jon Tester and Steve Daines as well as U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte. We also had the opportunity to meet with officials from the U.S. Department of Transportation. In each of those meetings, we received comments about the size and diversity of our contingent and that it made a very positive impression about the community’s support of the grant application.

As Missoula County Commissioner Dave Strohmaier mentioned in his comments, part of the application process is a political decision. Securing the support of Montana’s congressional delegation for Missoula’s application is vital to its success. After meeting with our senators and representative, we were assured of their support and were told they would be advocates on Missoula’s behalf with the Department of Transportation.

The private sector representatives on the trip were able to bring their own stories of how the grant would benefit the community. They were able to share their stories of how the housing market and transportation challenges affect local businesses and how the project outlined in the grant application would help. Those stories, combined with the project knowledge brought by the county and city officials, built a persuasive message delivered to those making the decision.

The delegation involved in the D.C. trip showed the very best of Missoula — varied interests working together to improve our community. The Chamber is proud to have been a partner with the county on this trip. It showed Missoula coming together for a common goal and highlights what can be accomplished when we all work together. The relationships developed during the time traveling to and from Washington will benefit the community for years to come.

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Kim Latrielle is president/CEO of the Missoula Area Chamber of Commerce.

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