Since mid-October, I have logged nearly 2,000 miles on Montana’s long and scenic roads to meet with business, civic, and tribal leaders across our great state.
I’m the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis’ newest assistant vice president and outreach executive, working out of the Bank’s Helena Branch. I’m charged with collecting economic intelligence in Montana and the five other states in our Ninth Federal Reserve District, all with the goal of helping to set national monetary policy as well as present the Fed’s programs and state impact. Driving past the refineries in Billings and Laurel, past the beautiful Crazy Mountains, and past the wheat fields near Three Forks, I had ample time to reflect on my short tenure at the bank and all I have already learned and shared.
Business and civic leaders in Missoula expertly shared their insights on the local labor markets, challenges with attracting new hires into their firms, and the impact of trade tariffs. Business and nonprofit executives in Bozeman discussed capital investment plans for the near future and presented creative solutions to retaining staff. Civic leaders in Billings opined on our mining, gas, high tech, and agriculture industries. Community partners in the Mission Valley shared their excitement for 2019, while others explained why they were less optimistic for the new year. Collectively, they gave our local communities and the local economy a voice that I will rely upon when discussing current economic conditions with Fed economic policymakers.
Conversations with tribal leaders at Flathead and in Billings focused on the contributions that the Fed’s Center for Indian Country Development has made in Native communities. The center’s mission is to help self-governing communities of American Indians attain their economic development goals, which have recently included tackling Native homeownership and access to capital, among other initiatives. I also shared the many more ways we hope to continue our positive impact in partnership with tribal stakeholders.
In each meeting, we talked about the unique role of the Helena Branch board of directors, an impressive group of Montana leaders who represent nonprofit, tribal, and banking industries, among others, and advise the Minneapolis Fed on trends in Montana’s economy. The Fed impacts our lives and communities much more than what is commonly associated with the Bank; that is, setting interest rates.
In meetings, I shared the basic structure of the Federal Reserve System, the functions of the Minneapolis Fed, and the unique role the Helena Branch (the only Branch in the Ninth District) plays in community outreach, cash services, and bank regulations in Montana.
The Minneapolis Fed leverages its enormous economic research capacity to deepen our understanding of the nation’s economy and studies critical economic issues that impact the district, such as immigration, minimum wage, and affordable housing. For Montana, economic research efforts center on challenges in early childhood education and spurred the statewide group, Funders for Montana’s Children, to explore solutions to expanding quality early child-care centers across the state.
For the past three decades, the Helena Branch has annually reached hundreds of Montana youth through the annual Montana Economics Challenge, Native American youth mentoring initiative, and the Teach Children to Save program, among other community outreach programs. These financial and economic education initiatives are preparing the next generation of Montana’s economic leaders.
Since its launch in 2016, the Minneapolis Fed’s Opportunity & Inclusive Growth Institute has focused on researching innovative ways to fold more Americans and Montanans into the workforce.
Collectively, the Fed’s research and community development initiatives are shaping the economic fabric of our great state. In Montana, we often quip about having two degrees of separation with everyone we meet. Our close-knit community is defined by trust and near instant access to each other. I certainly am appreciative of the accessibility of leaders who graciously shared their time and perspectives. I look forward to more miles, more windshield time and, most importantly, forming new relationships with Montanans who are interested in pursuing, with the Fed, an economy that works for all. Highway 2, Highway 93, and Interstate 90 (and roads in between), I’ll see you soon.