By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
Members of resource assessment teams that visited Hill County and Harlem last fall will return next week to help communities set priorities for future projects.
Meetings will also be held for one-year reviews of projects identified by teams that visited two other north-central Montana communities - Chinook and Chester.
Gloria O'Rourke of the Montana Economic Developers Association, which sponsors the teams' visits to rural Montana communities, said the meetings scheduled for Box Elder, Gildford, Havre and Harlem are particularly important for people to attend.
"The team has pretty much done its work and now it's time for the people to choose and implement what the team has presented, or go and find another approach if they prefer," she said. "Now it's the people's turn to roll up their sleeves and get busy."
The teams, which consist of economic development professionals, visit communities for two days and meet with local people to determine the communities' strengths and weaknesses and to help local people identify projects they would like to pursue. They present their findings at a community meeting and in a written report. The teams later make follow-up visits.
Thom MacLean said people have been busy since the Chinook report was presented a year ago.
"There are people working on things," he said.
MacLean said people are pursuing several projects that were identified by residents during the team's initial visit. Some, like the effort to build a visitor center at Bear Paw Battlefield south of town, were already on the books.
MacLean said the focus of the report on the visitor center has helped with its progress. The project was identified in the team's Chinook report as a way to create a significant tourist draw in the region.
Other efforts include establishing a biodiesel plant in the area. "I myself have been working on a visitor project with a roadside park along the highway," MacLean said.
Havre and Hill County hosted a team in November, and a team listened to residents of Harlem in December. Chinook and Liberty County hosted teams last spring.
The meetings in Chester and Chinook will give community leaders and volunteers an opportunity to talk about what has been done with the ideas presented last year. People can also ask for advice if they have had problems.
O'Rourke said she also always does something to celebrate the one-year anniversary.
"There's always something to celebrate, even if there are problems," she said.
The prioritization meetings set for Hill County communities and Harlem are key to any successful projects being started as a result of the assessments, she said.
The assessment team reported what people said they wanted to happen in their communities, and provided ideas and resources to achieve goals, she said. Now it's the communities' responsibilities to decide what to do next.
"If someone has a pet project and nothing's been done on it here's a chance to make sure it gets on the list," she added.
MacLean said people have to be aware of how the process works. Some people in Chinook seemed to think the resource team would work on the projects, but that has to be done by people in the community, he said.
"They're more of a resource if you need help or need guidance," he said.
Some of the ideas presented in the Harlem report include creating a Business Improvement District to help businesses in the community share costs, address problems and finance capital improvements.
The report gives several ideas and lists several resources to help create affordable housing. It includes recommendations about creating a local board to oversee housing improvements, and resources to use to build or rehabilitate both houses and apartment units.
The report lists several resources that would help farmers and ranchers use wind power to reduce monthly power bills. It also recommends that ag producers consider using alternative crops with a higher value than the beef and wheat traditionally raised in the area.
The report lists several things that could be done to strengthen existing businesses, and suggests some new enterprises, including a motocross facility, a bicycle shop and a hardware store.
Some comments appeared in a number of the local reports by assessment teams. They said weaknesses of an agricultural economy need to be addressed. They also said better signage is needed to let people know why they should stop in the communities.
Building a special events center in Havre was a common theme among people in Hill County. A center would allow Havre to host a variety of events that would benefit the Hi-Line and would attract people from outside the area.
Here is the schedule for the upcoming meetings:
Box Elder - Monday from 2 to 4 p.m. in the Box Elder High School cafeteria.
Havre - Monday from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Holiday Village Shopping Center Community Room.
Liberty County - Next Tuesday at noon in Spud's Cafe in Chester.
Gildford - Next Tuesday from 7 to 9 p.m. in the KG High School cafeteria in Gildford.
Chinook - March 31 at noon in the Blaine County Extension Office Triple-E Room in Chinook.
Harlem - March 31 from 7 to 9:30 p.m. in the Harlem High School cafeteria.
On the Net: Montana Economic Developers Association: www.medamembers.org