Big Sky Economic Development: Even with economy on the move, we have to plan to grow

2014-05-01T00:00:00Z 2014-05-01T09:34:17Z Big Sky Economic Development: Even with economy on the move, we have to plan to grow l The Billings Gazette
May 01, 2014 12:00 am  • 

As Yellowstone County continues its positive growth pattern, one might think that in such good economic times — a large number of business expansions, strong job creation, and great private investment — now is the time to step back and just let things happen. Well, I would argue that we better be very deliberate and strategic in four key areas if we hope to continue to strengthen our position as “the” regional center for commerce: healthcare, the business of energy, small business growth, and wholesale and retail trade.

This spring, the staff of Big Sky Economic Development and our 32 EDA and EDC board members, sought input from our partners and key stakeholders. BSED sent out a survey asking for some honest thoughts that we’re using when we gather in staff and board planning sessions and consider how best to meet the needs of our local business community.

We’re in the process of creating work plans and goals for each of our programs and to set our strategic priorities, all of which will direct the work of Big Sky Economic Development as it meets its role in providing leadership and resources for our economic future.

With that strategic planning going on, we’re in the middle of some very dynamic initiatives. First, we’re in the midst of an Industrial Park Feasibility Analysis with the hope of identifying the current and future demands for industrial space and infrastructure. We’re looking at market demand and potential sites. Right now, we have a collection of industrial businesses scattered throughout the community in various configurations, meeting an individual industry-specific need, and limited in their ability to grow by the constraints of non-compatible neighboring businesses or neighborhoods. Our ability to support the expansion or recruitment of industrial-type businesses is limited. We just don’t have enough properties with ready-to-go infrastructure (highway access, rail connections, water and sewer, fiber optics). Our analysis should help us develop the proper game plan in this area.

In our many conversations with businesses, it seems that finding the right workforce remains the biggest challenge for companies across the region — and it’s a key component to our current and future economic growth. Partnered with organizations throughout Yellowstone County, Big Sky Economic Development is facilitating the Billings Works Workforce Council initiative. The Council is all about focusing our collective resources toward supporting the needs of area employers — to hire and retain a talented workforce.

We’re all still celebrating a great community accomplishment — building our new Billings Public Library. And how about our great investment in our K-12 education system? With two great community wins under our belt, now is not the time to become complacent. What’s our next strategic community investment?

We have very real demands for expanding our police force and county jail, and that is certainly a priority. I would also encourage us to think about key investments in our downtown, trail systems, or even a modern convention center. Whatever the investment may be, it is imperative that we create additional quality-of-place amenities. The communities that invest in themselves will be the ones that attract and retain a talented workforce and thereby attract private investment and create jobs.

So, starting thinking and planning for what’s next. If you’d like to learn more about our planning efforts, just check out our website bigskyeconomicdevelopment.org or give me a call. I’d appreciate hearing your thoughts and ideas on strategies for economic growth, workforce development, and what you see as the next, most critical strategic community investment.

Thank you for being our partner.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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