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Big Sky EDA press conference

Big Sky Economic Development Executive Director Steve Arveschoug and board members announce a donation to Billings Clinic on Thursday morning. BSED also made donations to Rocky Mountain College, Montana State University Billings and RiverStone Health, citing the groups' projects that show promise for creating jobs and improving health care in the community. 

LARRY MAYER, Gazette Staff

Big Sky Economic Development dipped into its piggybank Thursday to contribute $50,000 to four community projects that show promise for creating jobs and improving health care.

Steve Arveschoug, executive director of Big Sky Economic Development, said the contribution, from the organization’s opportunity fund, represents an investment in an essential part of the economy.

The health care sector accounts for about 30 percent of the local economy, he said, during a news conference.

“(Health care) is a big deal for us,” Arveschoug said. “But it’s faced with challenges in terms of workforce.”

As baby boomers retire and the health sector grows, employers in Montana will need to fill an estimated 15,557 job openings in health-related fields over the next eight years, Arveschoug said.

He described BSED’s contribution as an investment in the infrastructure that supports the health care industry. 

BSED’s annual meeting on Wednesday touched on how innovation can drive job creation, touching on examples from the health sector.

Here are the contributions:

  • $7,500 to Rocky Mountain College, which is in the midst of a fundraising campaign that includes a $8.5 million science building, estimated to reach completion next year.

“I can’t tell you how much we appreciate the support that big Sky Economic Development has given us,” said Bob Wilmouth, president of Rocky.

  • $7,500 will go toward the construction of a new science building at Montana State University Billings. The Board of Regents recently approved a proposal to establish a baccalaureate nursing program at MSUB. Community support was essential to making that happen, said Mark Nook, chancellor at MSU Billings.

“We’re building a foundation for the next century. We’re one decade from our centennial,” Nook said. “This building is the cornerstone for that foundation, and we really appreciate the support from this community.”

  • $15,000 will go toward RiverStone Health’s new community health center. “You’ve heard the word investment a lot today,” said John Felton, RiverStone Health’s chief executive officer. “As a community, we’re investing in the health of our community.”

In 1995 the Montana Tradeport Authority, which later was renamed as Big Sky Economic Development, financed RiverStone’s original health center. At the time, the center served 7,000 patients and received 20,000 visits per year. These days, the center sees 20,000 patients who log 90,000 visits per year. The new building will feature 48 examination rooms to better serve patients.

Arveschoug said BSED will seek to match its contribution with a workforce training grant from the Montana Department of Commerce.

  • BSED will contribute $20,000 toward the medical residency training program at Billings Clinic. Dr. Nick Wolter, chief executive officer at Billings Clinic, said the local gift will be matched by the Helmsley Charitable Trust.

“It’s a place with very advanced technology,” Wolter said. “Residents, pharmacy students and many other health professionals will be able to train together. We’re really excited about this center.”

BSED’s opportunity fund dates to 2009, when it sold property that it owned in downtown Billings. Since then, the fund has grown to about $600,000.