By Jerome Tharaud/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
For three days next fall, Havre will be visited by ghosts of Havre yet-to-come - five or six of them actually.
A team of economic development professionals from around the state will come to Havre and other communities in Hill County to assess economic resources, offer a comprehensive economic development strategy for the county, and help city leaders update Havre's 1999 economic plan.
The Havre City Council voted Monday night to invite the resource team after hearing a proposal by Bear Paw Development Corp. planner Craig Erickson.
"It's been four years (since the 1999 plan) and I think it needs to be updated, and this is a wonderful opportunity to do that," Erickson told the council before the vote.
"The cost is minimal, and you get a very fresh look at this community from people who don't have a preconceived notion about Havre," he said, adding that the teams have "a very high level of expertise."
The vote authorizes Havre Mayor Bob Rice to write a letter requesting a visit from the team.
The program uses teams recruited by the Montana Economic Development Association and only requires that the host town pay for the room and board of the team members. Teams have visited Cut Bank, Chester, Chinook, Conrad, Baker, Polson, Rocky Boy, Judith Basin County and other places in the last year, and several more communities are waiting for teams to come, Erickson said.
The team that comes to Hill County likely will also hold meetings with people in other communities in the county, as well as Havre.
After the team is done with its three-day examination, it will meet with community members to present an initial report. After the team leaves, it will write a comprehensive report in which it will identify contacts and resources, and "help the community make their projects a reality," Erickson said.
The written report will be finished within six weeks, and will help update the city's 1999 economic development plan.
"I think it falls in line with what we're doing as far as our strategic plan," Rice said before the vote.
City Council member Emily Mayer agreed. "This is a good idea, if nothing else as a supplement for our long-range plan," she said.
Chester and Chinook both underwent the process earlier this spring.
"Basically they're compiling all the thoughts and ideas from the community," said Rodney Keith, president of the Chester Town Council. "They want to know what you have in the community," in terms of resources, he said, including facilities like swimming pools.
A resource assessment team visited Chester during the last week in March. Keith said he has not yet received the team's final report, but that just getting different community groups - from business owners to farmers to the school board - talking with each other about the future was helpful.
"I think it's very beneficial, just the fact that we got these groups together," Keith said. The team, which included representatives from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Montana Department of Agriculture, took a tour of the Chester area on its first day, including the Tiber Reservoir, the local Hutterite colonies, the feed plant and the old shovel factory.
The next two days, he said, the team had hour-long meetings with all of the different groups and then had a public meeting the last night. One of the ideas the team talked about was the possibility of developing value-added agriculture, like packaged vegetables.
Keith said Chester carried out its own economic needs survey two years ago, but that bringing in a group that is not very familiar with the community brings a fresh perspective. He also said the team comes back to town after six months and a year to see the results.
"They follow up. There's checks in it, so that's good too."
Keith said the team brought a sense of "excitement" to the community. One local business owner, he said, had been planning on leaving Chester, but now is reconsidering. "He's thinking there's more of a positive attitude now," he said. "So it's not just getting new business in - it's maintaining what we have sometimes."
Erickson said money to feed and lodge the team could come from a variety of sources, including in-kind donations, money from the Chamber of Commerce and volunteer support.
Rice suggested housing the team members with city officials, an idea Erickson said would work.
"This can all be figured out," he said. "It doesn't have to be very fancy."
Keith said Chester motels donated rooms, and local restaurants provided meals. "Basically everything was donated," he said.
The strategy is a "relatively new planning model," Erickson said.
The first resource assessment in Montana was done in Cut Bank in January of 2002. The program was modeled after one used in other states, including Texas and Wyoming. It was initiated by Montana Rural Development Partners, based in Anaconda, and has been taken over by the Montana Economic Developers Association. Bear Paw Development Corp. executive director Paul Tuss is president of the association.
An assessment was carried out at Rocky Boy this fall. A visit to Big Sandy is planned for early May. A team is expected to come to Harlem this year.