A Business Plan for Montana by Montanans

For Montana by Montanans
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Counties: Flathead, Lake, Lincoln, Mineral, Missoula, Ravalli, Sanders

The Northwest Region is a landscape of great contrast. Home to some of the most remote areas and vast timberlands in the lower 48 states, this region is also home to almost one third of the state's population. The Highway 93 corridor, linking communities from Eureka to Darby, is one of the most densely populated and culturally rich areas of the state. In addition to seven counties, the region includes the Flathead Indian Reservation, home to the Bitterroot Salish, Kootenai and Pend d'Oreille peoples of the Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes. The Northwest Region includes an active workforce of more than 140,000 people.

With natural amenities like Glacier National Park, the Bob Marshall Wilderness and Flathead Lake, it is no surprise that residents of the Northwest Region consider outdoor recreation and the quality of the natural environment to be the area's greatest strengths. These qualities, along with the area's unique culture, can be used to develop branding and recruitment strategies that attract the entrepreneurs and skilled workers needed to build existing and future businesses.

With the University of Montana in Missoula, Flathead Valley Community College in Kalispell, Bitterroot College-UM in Hamilton, Missoula College-UM, and Salish Kootenai College in Pablo, the region has outstanding higher education and workforce development resources. These resources are already establishing public-private partnerships that increase the knowledge base and income potential of the region's workers. They also provide emerging businesses with exceptional research and development opportunities. Building on the successes of these programs will provide long term benefits to the regional and state economy.

The quality of life in the Northwest Region and the close proximity to population centers across Montana's northern border make tourism, marketing and business development with Canadian firms an obvious opportunity. Likewise, the Northwest is home to excellent healthcare centers that support wellness, provide high paying jobs, and attract older and seasonal residents. Efforts to partner the education and workforce development centers with the needs of the growing medical service industry make the Northwest Region more robust and economically diverse.  More jobs in the health and wellness field will help reverse one of the region's (and the state's) biggest challenges - relatively low wages.

Using the region's timber resources in innovative ways, like the biomass fuel electricity co-generator in Columbia Falls and the biomass boiler heating schools in Darby, provides leadership in the field of renewable energy. Pockets of advanced manufacturing and high tech industries have emerged in the region as well, providing good jobs in both urban centers and small, timber and ranch towns. Continuing efforts to cultivate new start-ups, providing business development services, on-going worker training, and capitalizing on the region's resources and beauty will help grow these sectors of the economy and strengthen the economic base.

Counties: Beaverhead, Broadwater, Deer Lodge, Gallatin, Granite, Jefferson, Lewis & Clark, Madison, Meagher, Park, Powell, Silver Bow, Sweet Grass

Home to Montana's capital city, Helena, the Southwest Region is Montana's birthplace. In 1858, gold was discovered in waters flowing from the Flint Range, and the rush of miners and boom in population that followed resulted in Montana's admission to the Union in 1889. The region is flush with history and culture, still living with us today through the sagebrush on the Nez Perce Historic Trail high in the Big Hole Valley, and the wooden boardwalks in the mining town of Virginia City. It is a history where economic boom times in Butte coincided with monumental acts of preservation in Yellowstone. Called America's Greatest Idea, the designation of Yellowstone National Park as the world's first national park has protected this iconic landscape for generations. Montana is the Gateway to Yellowstone, and local communities benefit every year from the thousands of visitors drawn to the Park's natural wonders. The 13 counties in the Southwest Region are crisscrossed by two major interstates connecting the cities of Butte, Dillon, Deer Lodge, Bozeman, Helena, and beyond. Around 260,000 people, half of them in the workforce, call Southwest Montana home.

The profound history, scenic splendor and world class recreation are among the assets that contribute to the Southwest Region's high quality of life. It's what makes this region, and all of Montana for that matter, unique in a competitive global economy. The grass is greener in Montana, and our quality of life can attract top talent and knowledge-based businesses looking for a great place to live.

Driven by innovation and advances in technology, partnerships between private businesses and the region's workforce and education system are linking research to commercialization in areas like geographical information science and optical electronics, propelling economic development and expanding the economic base. The region's access to high value advanced training and nationally recognized higher education programs are a significant asset and opportunity to develop a technically skilled workforce. With Montana State University and Gallatin College-MSU in Bozeman, the University of Montana-Western in Dillon, Helena College-UM and Carroll College in Helena and Montana Tech and Highlands College of MT Tech in Butte, the doors are open for career opportunities and wage growth in these communities.

The Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport is the busiest in the state. Tourism, driven by Yellowstone National Park and year-round world class recreation, is considered the region's greatest economic opportunity. Whether for the skiing, fishing, whitewater or wildlife, people come from all over the world to visit Southwest Montana.

While the economy of the region is growing, adding 2,860 jobs in 2012 for a growth rate of 2.2 percent, challenges remain. Residents in the Southwest Region see a need to overcome low wages and find opportunities to help struggling downtown businesses. Survey respondents expressed a sentiment that Main Streets in rural communities are hurting, despite the region's overall economic growth.

Counties: Blaine, Cascade, Chouteau, Glacier, Hill, Liberty, Phillips, Pondera, Teton, Toole

Where the mountains meet the plains, the 10 counties of the North Central Region are home to 150,000 people, the largest military installation in the state, the Blackfeet Reservation, the Chippewa Cree of the Rocky Boy's Reservation, and the Fort Belknap Reservation, home of the Gros Ventre and Assiniboine Tribes. North Central Montana lays claim to many of Montana's most iconic places. The Rocky Mountain Front, an area of immense diversity of wildlife and fauna, creates the western boundary. The Missouri River Breaks, famous for its trophy bull elk, looks much the same as it did when Lewis and Clark visited these waters 200 years ago. The Great Falls of the Missouri, roaring over the five sandstone steps, gives the largest city in the region its name. Charlie Russell, one of the most famous painters of the American West, called this country home.

North Central Montana has a workforce of approximately 65,000 people. Known as Montana's Golden Triangle, agriculture is a critical driver of the economy and culture. The region is also a leader in renewable energy development, including generation of both wind a hydroelectric power.

Whether hunting pheasants or mule deer bucks along the Rocky Mountain Front or hiking the rounded hills of the Bea Paw Mountains, the people of the North Central Region see the quality of life afforded by outdoor recreation and the natural environment as strengths. However, many North Central communities have aging populations. Without an influx of new workers and growth in the working-age population, sustainability will become an even greater issue over time.

North Central Montana is pursuing business growth and recruitment opportunities. Agriculture is a key economic driver in the region, and survey respondents recognized value-added agriculture and diversification as important opportunities. Partnerships such as the AgriTech Park in Great Falls create locational opportunities for agri-processing as well as other industries, capitalizing on the resources and advantages the community offers.

Energy projects can potentially diversify the region's economy and increase wages. Whether through expansion of current facilities or new developments, both renewable and nonrenewable energy sectors are poised for growth. The region's institutions of higher education connect the workforce to these emerging economic opportunities. MSU-Northern in Havre, Great Falls College MSU and the University of Great Falls, Aaniiih Nakoda College in Fort Belknap, Blackfeet Community College in Browning, and Stone Child College in Box Elder provide opportunities for higher education that span North Central Montana. A national leader in bio-fuel research, the MSU-Northern Bio-Energy Research Center is a state-of-the-art facility working to develop patents converting bio-fuels into commercially viable jet fuels.

Expanding connections with our neighbors to the north is good news for businesses. Partnering with Canadian businesses and exporting our products north creates jobs and improves wages. Education, quality of life, and manufacturing driven by the oil, gas and coal industries may create new economic opportunities for Montanans in the North Central Region.

Counties: Big Horn, Carbon, Fergus, Golden Valley, Judith Basin, Musselshell, Petroleum, Stillwater, Wheatland, Yellowstone

From the high alpine tundra of the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness to the meandering Musselshell River, the South Central Region is a landscape as diverse as any in the nation. Small towns dot the landscape and yet the region is home to Montana's largest metropolitan area, Billings. About 75 percent of the region's 200,000 people live within Yellowstone County. This concentrated population also has concentrated economic activity, but there are opportunities for growth outside of the urban area. In addition to the state's largest city, this region is home to the Crow Reservation and the Northern Cheyenne Reservation. Over 100,000 people living in 10 counties make up the region's workforce.

No region added more jobs in 2012 than the South Central Region. Billings is a regional hub for health care, transportation, education and other services, leading the charge in job and wage growth. Emerging sectors of the economy like high-tech manufacturing and medical services are diversifying the economic base and providing high paying jobs. With rivers and mountains, plays and powwows, the quality of life offered here is attracting lifestyle immigrants who want to work and live in a bustling and growing community.

Like the distinction between the plains and the peaks, there are significant differences between the region's rural areas and urban center. In the small towns, survey respondents expressed their opinion that Main Street businesses are struggling, wages are low, and access to job training and education is limiting. Residents consider natural resources development as the greatest opportunity to bridge that gap. In addition to having mines and wells nearby, strategies to vertically integrate natural resources-based industries into the economy will provide longer lasting stability.

Education and workforce development resources are critical components to the region's job growth. With MSU-Billings, City College at MSU-Billings and Rocky Mountain College in Billings, as well as Little Big Horn College in Crow Agency, access to resources for basic job skills, technical training, apprenticeship programs and advanced degrees is turning jobs into careers. Distance to the programs is an issue in some communities, and improving accessibility will supply highly skilled workers throughout the region and help businesses grow.

Counties: Carter, Custer, Daniels, Dawson, Fallon, Garfield, McCone, Powder River, Prairie, Richland, Roosevelt, Rosebud, Sheridan, Treasure Valley, Wibaux

The big sky doesn't get any bigger than in Montana's Eastern Region. This vast region, long supported by agriculture, has the most dispersed population in the state. From Miles City to Sidney, Bainville to Glasgow, the towns follow the river valleys of the Yellowstone and Missouri. Over the eons, these waters carved the Badlands, exposing hidden treasures such as dinosaur fossils and brilliant agates, their sediments covering rich deposits of oil, gas, and coal. On the rolling hills above the river bottoms, in towns like Plentywood, there are seemingly endless fields of grain. In towns like Jordan and Ekalaka, the green grass of spring feeds thriving cattle herds. The banks and Badlands of the Missouri are home to the Assiniboine & Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation, while the hills, meadows and pines of the south are home to the Northern Cheyenne Reservation. In total, 75,000 people live in this region; about 46,000 people are in the workforce.
Beneath the farmlands and rolling plains lie vast natural resources, including natural gas, coal and the vast Bakken oil formation. Mining and energy production are widespread from Colstrip to Culbertson. It is no surprise this region identified natural resources as its greatest economic opportunity. Attracting businesses in towns that service the oil fields and coal mines and manufacture supplies for these industries will help create stable jobs. Efforts to partner with these industries with education and workforce development centers will provide the workforce that industries need to locate to or expand within our communities.

The Eastern Region has suddenly risen to a place of economic prominence within the State of Montana. Driven by strong commodity prices and oil and gas development in the Bakken, the story line is of strong job growth. In 2012, the region added over 1,800 jobs, a growth rate of 5.1 percent, the strongest in the state. In fact, the growth has been so vigorous that some areas are experiencing worker shortages. Dawson Community College in Glendive, Miles City Community College in Miles City, Chief Dull Knife College in Lame Deer, and Fort Peck Community College in Poplar offer a wide range of degrees, certificates and training programs. Partnerships with educators, employers and agricultural producers will create a skilled workforce and help fuel the growth.

Infrastructure is essential to this region's growing economy. Long distances between towns necessitate travel for basic services, like shopping, banking, and health and wellness. Water and sewer systems, police and fire fighters, libraries and sidewalks, create the safe, healthy communities that are paramount to the quality of life we expect in our friendly small towns and livable cities. Access to commercial air service for businesses, rail lines for goods, and safe roads for residents are necessary to connect communities to markets beyond.