Bullock, CEOs launch `Main Street Montana’ economic development project

2013-05-13T23:00:00Z 2013-05-20T20:17:56Z Bullock, CEOs launch `Main Street Montana’ economic development projectBy MIKE DENNISON Gazette State Bureau The Billings Gazette

HELENA – Gov. Steve Bullock and two of Montana’s top business CEOs on Monday unveiled their road map for a state economic plan they said won’t just “sit on the shelves.”

“I really think something will come of this,” said Bill Johnstone, chairman and CEO of D.A. Davidson & Co., a financial-services firm based in Great Falls. “It’s pragmatic, it’s non partisan. It’s driven by business people, by business managers from throughout the state.”

Johnston and Larry Simkins, president and CEO of the Missoula-based Washington Cos., joined Bullock at a Capitol news conference to announce the plan, dubbed the Main Street Montana project.

Starting this month with a series of roundtables that will collect information on economic strengths and weaknesses, the project will identify concrete steps to enhance Montana’s economy throughout the state, they said. An initial report may be out in early 2014, they added.

Bullock, a Democrat, likened the effort to developing a business plan, which any successful private business must have.

“Any business that wants to do business here puts together a business plan, to look at the strengths, the weaknesses, the challenges and the opportunities,” he said

The first roundtable will be May 28 in Billings, followed by others in Missoula, Great Falls, Miles City and Bozeman.

The trio said they’ve been discussing the plan for several months. The project is Bullock’s effort to fulfill his duty under the law to come up with a “strategic economic development plan” for the state, coordinated by his chief business officer.

Johnstone said he thinks the plan will be different from prior state plans because it will be “business- and community-driven,” with a bottom-up approach of getting doable ideas and programs from local people who know the business landscape.

Simkins said the planners have no preconceived notions and that “everything is on the table.”

“The idea is that we want to gather as many facts as we can, before we sit down and start talking about what’s necessary for economic development,” he said.

Once the roundtables are finished in late June, the project will conduct surveys in each county, on regulations, workforce development, education and other components of economic development, and also look at what’s going on in surrounding states.

“We want to have a good, fundamental discussion about what are the drivers of Montana’s economy, and what it takes for the future,” Simkins said.

He said they hope to compile data by the fall and then start figuring out what the initial report may look like, with a target release date of sometime in the first quarter of 2014. However, the effort will revisit the plan every nine months to update what may change, he added.

Bullock said the plan is meant to be ongoing, and won’t be just a development of initiatives for the next Legislature in 2015.

Johnstone promised an effort “driven by facts, not ideology,” and said Montana is operating from a position of relative economic strength – which is a good time to look at how the world is changing and how to adapt to it.

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