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Steve Arveschoug, Big Sky Economic Development

STEVE ARVESCHOUG

On the 30th anniversary of Big Sky Economic Development Authority (originally known as the Montana Trade Port Authority), I want to say thank you to the citizens of Yellowstone County for your partnership. Your trust, financial contribution, and active engagement in our work has supported economic growth in our community and the successful execution of our mission.

Big Sky Economic Development Authority (EDA) has changed a bit since its days as the Montana Trade Port Authority. We now function as a public/private partnership with the Big Sky Economic Development Corporation (EDC), doing work together as Big Sky Economic Development (BSED). You can see this partnership at work at 7:30 a.m. on the second Thursday of each month. That meeting is always open to the public, you will find 33 volunteer board members (11 EDA and 22 EDC) working with the staff to set economic development strategy and detail the work of 10 unique programs and initiatives that serve to focus the execution of our mission in three areas — business growth services, new business recruitment, and community development.

The impacts of these programs have resulted in thousands of clients counseled as they start or grow a business, over $90 million in loans for capital investments, numerous new businesses recruited to our region, and $24 million in grants secured for our community development. That’s important work that has made a real impact, but now I want to focus your thinking on the next 30 years. How can we come together as a community to support economic growth, leverage current assets, drive a diverse/innovative economy, remain regionally competitive, attract new private-sector investment and job growth, expand our tax base, and meet our workforce needs (all imperative goals)?

The answer is by building a foundation for our community on the tenets of a thoughtful “economic growth blueprint,” starting with a modern and strategic community-development action plan (“the foundation”) that will ensure our economic future.

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From my perspective, having observed the growth of our community over the last decade, and having watched and learned from successful communities in our region and across the nation, I see our community development foundation being made up of seven essential elements:

  1. Continued investment is essential infrastructure that supports new private investment (i.e., the improvement of 32nd Avenue from King to Gabel Road, or the development of planned industrial space).
  2. Focused commitment on building quality of place amenities (i.e., Coulson Park along the Yellowstone River and Skyline Trail along the Rims).
  3. Public safety investment that serves a growing community with changing needs and challenges;
  4. Thriving higher education that is aligned well with future workforce needs and positioned to support the growth and attraction of innovative businesses.
  5. Continued redevelopment of our downtown core.
  6. An entrepreneurial support system.
  7. Purposeful workforce development programs (career and technical education and talent attraction).

Communities that have their blueprint clearly defined and are consistently checking off the items on their community development action plan, are the communities that will succeed economically over the next 5-30 years. I want Yellowstone County to continue to be one of those communities.

To do that we need to rally around a “strategic community development action plan” that will serve as the foundation for our economic future. It doesn’t have to be the list I provided above (although I really like that list), but we absolutely must be willing to think strategically together and start building the foundation for our next 30 years of economic growth. Big Sky Economic Development remains committed to that mission, and respects and honors your partnership in this endeavor.

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Steve Arveschoug is executive director of Big Sky Economic Development.

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Opinion Editor

Opinion editor for The Billings Gazette.