Grants expected to boost regional economy

Daily Inter Lake

by Shelley Ridenour

The receipt of a $1.1 million grant is expected to allow the Flathead County Economic Development Authority to purchase property for an industrial park that has railroad service.

The development authority group received notice of the grant award from Montana’s two U.S. senators, Democrats Max Baucus and Jon Tester.

Another grant award went to Eureka for $634,130 to fund the engineering, design and construction of a wood development center in the Tobacco Valley Industrial District business park.

The center will focus on enhancing the development of value-added wood industries, biomass and specialty mill production.

For six years, the development authority and Flathead County commissioners have wanted to develop an industrial park with rail service to capitalize on the BNSF rail line that connects the Flathead Valley to major markets, according to a press release from Montana West Economic Development.

Such a park “will increase industry attraction potential and employment opportunities for residents,” said Don Bennett, chairman of the development authority board.

The goal of the new industrial park is to attract large manufacturers that require rail service, according to the press release.

The development authority is negotiating to purchase between 75 and 100 acres of land in Columbia Falls where the industrial park would be located, Kellie Danielson said.

Danielson is president of Montana West Economic Development and the chief executive officer of the Flathead County Economic Development Authority. The plan is to acquire the land by the end of the year, she said.

Economic development leaders have been “chasing leads” for businesses to locate in the planned park, she said, although no firm commitments have been made.

The property the group wants to purchase is not developed, Danielson said, but the development authority has money reserved for infrastructure development. Having that money available was a key factor in the group receiving the grant, she said.

News of the grant award in Eureka was greeted with excitement, Lincoln County Commissioner Marianne Roose said.

The planned wood development center should help “promote entrepreneurship, growth and development of value-added industries in our community,” she said.

The wood development center is to be located at the old airport, Roose said.

In 1996, Lincoln County commissioners agreed to make some of the old airport land available for business development. Since then, county leaders have “kept hanging in with a dream to develop a project,” Roose said. “Economic development takes time and money.”

In the ensuing years, Lincoln County officials put together seed money to pay for an economic development director (a post now held by Tracy McIntyre), secured grants to work on economic development, created commissions and subcommittees to address the task and worked hard “to entice businesses to come to the county,” Roose said.

Much of the infrastructure already is in place in the industrial park where the wood center will be located, she said, including roads, electric service and water wells.

Two clients have expressed interest in locating in the park, but no commitments have been made, she said.

The grant money should give Montanans “additional tools to come up with solutions for keeping jobs and creating new ones in key Montana industries,” Baucus said in a press release. The timber and wood products industries in the state face new challenges, he said, “that require new solutions to stay competitive in the global marketplace.”

“These resources will go a long way toward creating and keeping good jobs,” Tester said. “Our timber and wood products industries are a critical part of Montana’s economy and heritage and these grants will strengthen the infrastructure our state needs to keep those industries strong.”

The grant funds come from the U.S. Economic Development Administration.