By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
Havre native Tony Preite plans to bring decades of experience to Gov.-elect Brian Schweitzer's Cabinet with a goal of trying to provide economic opportunity to Montan-ans.
"It's not necessarily to change the course, but to enhance the opportunities available to people in Montana, particularly the young people who want to stay in Montana but can't find gainful employment," Preite said in an interview today.
Schweit-zer announced Thursday that he is appointing Preite director of the state Department of Com-merce.
Preite has nearly 40 years of hands-on work in economic development in Montana, including 25 years with Bear Paw Development Corp. in Havre.
He said one of the roles he sees the commerce director playing is to coordinate programs and funding opportunities at all levels of government, and from private and public organizations, to enhance economic opportunity.
For example, he said, he will coordinate efforts to create value-added agriculture opportunities, including alternative fuels and alternative crops that can be processed into finished products and sold for a higher profit.
"Value-added is a word that has been around for years, but I don't think we have committed the resources to make it work and really make it a reality," he said.
Another goal is to help train people for jobs that are available right now, Preite said, adding that Montana doesn't have enough trained welders to meet demand.
He said he'll working closely with local government officials and local economic development organizations. Projects that provide jobs are developed on the local level, not in Helena or Washington, D.C., Preite said.
"When those projects are brought to Helena, then I think we can marshal the resources to go forward in a united effort," he said.
He added that the Department of Commerce should work closely with the Governor's Office of Economic Opportunity, created by Gov. Judy Martz.
That office will be helpful for Schweitzer to implement many of his plans, and the closer it works with the Department of Commerce, "the more bang we'll get for the buck," Preite said.
He said he plans to work closely with the Legislature
"I look forward to working with both sides of the aisle," he added. "You just have to. It makes sense."
He said his experience with state agencies, including knowing many of the employees and directors, will help him in his job. He and Mark Simonich, current director of the Department of Commerce, have had a good working relationship for many years, Preite added.
Those relationships are a byproduct of 36 years of experience.
Born in Havre in 1937, the son of Eugene and Emileilla Preite, he attended St. Jude School and graduated from Havre Central High School in 1956. After earning a bachelor of science degree in social studies from Northern Montana College in 1963, he taught at Turner High School for four years.
He spent the next 25 years with Bear Paw Development Corp., starting with the newly created organization as community development planner in August 1968 and taking over as executive director in January 1969.
He worked in that job until 1993, when he was appointed by President Clinton as state director of the Farmers Home Administration. He was state director during the reorganization of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Preite's program was renamed USDA Rural Development in 1998.
In 1999, Preite was hired as regional director of the U.S. Economic Development Administration. The Denver office oversees a 10-state region including Montana.
Preite retired in June 2003, and went to work at the University of Montana in Missoula as the director of the Office of Space Commercialization and also as director of the Office of Economic Outreach.
He and his wife of 42 years, Betty Preite, have two children: Bob Preite, who lives with his wife, Barbara Preite, in Salt Lake City; and Julie Tilleman, who lives with her husband, Randy Tilleman, in Seattle.