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Montana Main Street Project

Larry Simkins, CEO of the Washington Cos. and co-chair of Main Street Montana, speaks at a news conference at Boeing Helena on Thursday in Helena. To his left is Gov. Steve Bullock and at right is Bill Johnstone, CEO of Davidson Cos.

ELIZA WILEY/Independent Record

HELENA — Gov. Steve Bullock released a business plan for the Montana that emphasizes the need for a trained workforce to meet the needs of a changing economy.

The plan also calls for the responsible development of natural resources, the nurturing of innovative businesses, creating a climate that attracts and retains businesses and marketing Montana.

The plan was developed as part of the Main Street Montana Project, announced by Bullock in May 2013.

Bullock appointed two prominent Montana businessmen, Larry Simkins, president of Washington Cos., and Bill Johnstone, CEO of Davidson Cos., to lead the effort.

They sought to develop a business plan driven by the private sector and done in a nonpartisan way that builds on Montana’s strengths while overcoming its challenges.

At an event at Boeing Helena, Bullock, Simkins and Johnstone discussed the plan. They emphasized they don’t want it to gather dust on shelves as some similar plans have done in the past.

“While our state’s economy consistently outpaces the nation, I also know Montanans aren’t ones to rest on their laurels,” Bullock said.

He said the Main Street Montana Project tapped the expertise of Montana business, labor and education leaders, along with owners of small businesses on Main Streets across the state.

“It’s a plan that was put together by thousands of Montanans,” Johnstone said.

He said at least 3,000 Montanans participated in the development of the plan, with about 1,000 attending roundtables around the state and at least 2,000 more taking a survey.

Simkins said he’s most proud of the fact that people from all 56 counties in Montana participated in the project.

They came up with these five pillars for economic growth in Montana:

Train and educate tomorrow’s workforce today. That includes aligning the educational system with the needs of a changing economy and engaging in private-public partnerships to provide job training, apprenticeship and professional development opportunities. Another objective is to provide a lifetime continuum of quality education from preschool through adulthood.

Create a climate that attracts, retains and grows businesses. The objectives are to foster a business-friendly climate through efficient and effective government, increase access to capital and resources for Montana businesses and coordinate economic development efforts throughout the state.

Build upon Montana’s economic foundation. The objectives are to responsibly develop Montana’s natural resources for long-term economic growth, ensure Montana businesses and communities have efficient and reliable infrastructure and protect Montana’s quality of life for this and future generations.

Market Montana. The objectives are to strengthen and promote the Montana brand to recruit businesses, workers and tourists and to increase promotion of Made in Montana products and exports.

Nurture emerging industries and encourage innovation. The objectives call for strengthening the role of universities as technology incubators through research development and commercialization, fostering innovation and encouraging knowledge-based industries to locate and grow in Montana and supporting entrepreneurs and small businesses to enhance their potential to achieve growth and stability.

Simkins said the roundtables highlighted the importance of education as a key component in economic development.

“Wherever we were, education seemed to bubble up to the top,” he said.

Johnstone said many people talked about transportation and infrastructure needs, although the needs varied by the location.

Groups known as KINs — key individual networks — will be appointed from the private sector in each of the highlighted industries to guide the project.

Bullock said there are 103 different concrete objectives and steps in the plan. Many can be accomplished by work of the KINs and state government, while others might take legislation.

The governor also signed an executive order Thursday directing state agencies to cooperate and help in the tasks identified in the Main Street Montana project report.

It assigns the departments of Commerce and Labor and the Governor’s Office of Economic Development to provide staff, technical and research support to implement the project’s tasks.

In addition, Bullock’s order called for the Main Street Montana Project implementation team to issue annual status reports, with the first due by March 1, 2015.

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