By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
A report on the strengths, challenges and opportunities in Hill County is complete.
The resource assessment team that held meetings Nov. 18-19 to analyze resources in Havre and the county filed its report Monday. Craig Erickson of Bear Paw Development Corp. said copies will be available in several locations by the end of the next day or so.
"Definitely we want the public to take a good look at this," he said.
The community assessment and report were sponsored by the Montana Economic Developers Association, which is helping communities find ways to stimulate their economies and social and cultural activities.
The next step will be public meetings for people of Hill County to prioritize the recommendations so they can be implemented.
"We need people's input," Erickson said. "I think (the team) offered up some very interesting ideas that at the very least should be considered."
Some of the ideas could be used immediately. For instance, team member Evan Barrett, executive director of the Butte Local Development Corp., recommended that Havre create a tax increment finance district to revitalize downtown.
The Havre City Council on Monday formed an ad hoc committee to investigate creating such a district.
Erickson said the prioritization meetings will probably be in mid to late March, and the dates should be set by the end of the week. Meetings will probably be held in Havre, Box Elder and a Hi-Line community west of Havre.
The reports will be available at Bear Paw Development, the Havre City-County Library, Havre City Hall and at the Hill County Commission office, he said. The report is also available online at the MEDA Web site.
The report gives general recommendations for the county as well as ideas specific to Havre and Hill County's smaller towns.
John Ballard, superintendent of Kremlin-Gildford Public Schools, said doing the assessment was a good idea.
"I think the concept is right," Ballard said. "I truly believe you have to explore options, and that's one of the ways to explore options."
The report is broken into several sections. The first identifies main issues raised by groups of residents who met with team members. The issues are broken down by subject matter, including agriculture, community issues, business and commerce, education and transportation.
After that, the report presents the comments of each of the six teams members, including their recommendations and suggested resources to make those suggestions a reality. The report also lists the challenges, assets and projects identified by community members who met with the team.
Team member Gloria O'Rourke, who coordinates the resource assessment teams for MEDA, wrote in the report that better playground equipment was a priority for KG and identified several contacts to help with that project.
A issue identified for several Hi-Line communities was better signage to attract tourists to their towns.
Communities could work with the state Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration to increase signs directing people on the highway to the communities, O'Rourke said. She listed state and federal requirements for putting signs on highways, and gave contacts information for people who could help with erecting signs.
Linda Reed, executive director of the Montana Community Foundation in Helena, addressed a need identified in Box Elder with techniques that could be applied to many projects in the county.
Box Elder residents identified high-quality basketball courts and a community center as needs in their town. Reed recommended that the community ask design students and the National Guard to assist with the projects.
Ken Richardson, marketing manager for CTA Architects and Engineers, made a similar recommendation for a student request in Havre that a facility be developed to offer nonalcoholic entertainment for Havre's youth.
The students suggested the third floor of the Heritage Center be converted to a club for youth. Richardson suggested that the students be directly involved in planning and creating such a club. He suggesting it be headed by the youth leadership program sponsored by the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce.
Other suggestions included using the Heritage Center, formerly the Havre post office and federal courthouse, to house various human services agencies and organizations.
Barrett said one way to help revitalize the downtowns of small communities in the county is to group businesses and services together into a single center, such as the center that houses the senior center, a restaurant and a hairdresser in Rudyard.
That creates a shopping center atmosphere, and helps draw people to the center and the community, Barrett said. Expanding the use of such centers could help fill empty downtowns with businesses and customers, he said.
Several team members gave ideas to stimulate agriculture, including increasing organic farming and ranching and marketing those products, transferring ownership of farms and ranches whose owners want to retire to younger family members or other young people who want to enter agriculture, and creating local processing plants and marketing groups.
Brent Poppe, bureau chief of the Agriculture Marketing and Business Development Bureau of the Montana Department of Agriculture, said local agriculture producers are a primary resource in the county, but the producers must be willing to adjust to modern farming and marketing styles in order for value-added agriculture to work.
One example he used is raising and marketing high-quality durum to be used in making pasta.
Other agricultural recommendations Poppe made were to develop local meat or livestock feeding and processing centers, and developing ethanol distillation plants.
Poppe mentioned a new process that is being considered at the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation: An ethanol plant is combined with a livestock feedlot, and manure from the feedlot is used to produce methane that helps power the ethanol production plant.
O'Rourke recommended the county utilize agricultural tourism.
Tourism activities could generate extra income for local farmers and ranchers as well as bringing new tourists to the area, O'Rourke said.
A common item in the report was the idea of building a special events center in Havre, which could possibly host events like athletic tournaments, conferences and conventions, concerts and other performing arts events, and trade shows.
Havre has commissioned a tudy to find what kind of center, if any, is appropriate for the area.
Several team members gave ideas on how to increase the number of people who shop locally, including advertising the cost in gasoline and time it takes to travel out of the area to shop.
Barrett recommended marketing Havre as a commercial hub.