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Missoula Economic Partnership: Study to explore new tools for economic development

Posted at 2:40 PM, Feb 26, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-26 16:40:16-05

The Missoula Economic Partnership will contribute to a study this spring to explore a range of tools that could make Montana more competitive on the economic front by turning to other states for models of success.

The Montana Economic Developers Association has already contracted a consultant to complete the study, and MEP will contribute its share to the cost in hopes of gleaning new tools it can take the next Legislature.

They’re calling the statewide effort Montana NextGen.

“We’re working on an assessment of economic development tools that exist today in Montana, and also exploring what tools we can incorporate that other states, either in the country or in the region, are adopting or have deployed that we are not yet using in Montana,” said Grant Kier, president of MEP.

State and local economic leaders have long suggested that Montana lacks the same tools available in other states to help develop a robust economy. At times, they’ve said, that can place the state at an economic disadvantage.

Kier said the upcoming study will bring together a number of public and private partners, along with certain peer organizations, to dive into the state’s existing toolbox and look for other models of success.

“Are there ways we can think differently about some of the tools that the (Montana Department of Commerce) deploys?” Kier said. “Are there tools none of us are thinking about right now that work effectively in other states to move the needle?”

Kier met this week with Missoula County commissioners to discuss a range of economic issues and said the NextGen report should be completed by summer. That would give economic leaders a united front before the upcoming Legislature.

In the past, Kier said, MEP has been reactive to legislative issues. He’d like to see that change and sees the study as a step in that direction.

“My observation and our acknowledgment as an organization is that we’ve been pretty reactionary to legislative agendas,” said Kier. “We really saw this as a huge opportunity to be much more strategic about what are the gaps right now and how we can do things differently to prepare for the future.”

Montana NextGen marks a collaboration that has around 75 partners, and it represents the first effort of its kind in nearly 20 years, according to the Montana Economic Developers Association.

Although the recommendations will be designed for near-term implementation, the impacts will be focused on maintaining and improving the long-term competitiveness of Montana. The recommendations will be supported by best practices and case studies, as well as benchmarking of current tools and programs.

“Montana needs to do its homework and consider anew what tools and strategies are needed to maximize our economic future and support strategic development of our communities.” Steve Arveschoug, president of MEDA.