Associated Press

GREAT FALLS (AP) – Agriculture is just as important as high technology in restarting Montana’s economy, the state’s chief business officer said last week.

Montana’s natural resources are key to the state’s economic development effort, said David Gibson. And agriculture – as compared to mining and timber – holds the greatest potential for growth, he said.

Gibson spoke to more than 450 agribusiness operators at the 15th joint meeting of the Montana Agriculture Business Association and the Montana Grain Elevator Association. The three-day convention ended Friday.

“Our traditional industries have to get stronger or we will not get this economy moving and back up where it needs to be,” Gibson said.

Recruiting out-of state businesses is expensive and isn’t working in other states, he said. Creating one job can cost as much as $100,000 in bidding wars against Cleveland, Denver or Seattle, he said.

Instead, the state should continue with the Vision 2005 plan, which seeks to double the worth of Montana’s $2 billion agriculture economy by 2005, Gibson said. The plan was launched under former Gov. Marc Racicot.

New technologies from the state’s university system can drive new growth, and the state can work with county extension agents to make sure those innovations reach farmers quickly, he said. The state also has to help producers in their marketing efforts, he said.

Gibson said he envisions Montana developing its traditional natural resources and becoming a world-class research center for alternative energy sources.

“We will do everything we can to – in an environmentally responsible way – to accelerate the development of our natural resources,” he said.

Copyright 2002 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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