Tim Leeds Havre Daily News email@example.com
A crowd gathered in Havre Thursday to celebrate 40 years of success by the state’s first-established certified regional development corporation: Bear Paw Development Corp. John Rogers, economic development officer o f t h e U. S . Ec o n omi c De v e l o pme n t Administration in Montana, said that when he took his position in 1988, Bear Paw was the only economic development corporation in the state. “I only had one, but it was a great one,” he said. Havre native Tony Preite, now director of the Montana Department of Commerce, is a former executive director of the corporation. He said during Bear Paw’s annual meeting Thursday at the Duck Inn that its list of accomplishments could fill a book. “It’s still the private sector that drives the economy,” Preite said, “but sometimes it runs out o f gas o r i s a half-gallon short. (Organizations like Bear Paw) are still going to provide that little extra push to get the job done. “ It’s really a district in a class by itself,” he said. “Bear Paw is what all development organizations strive to be.” Rogers said that having a certified regional development corporation gives the area access to planning and grants simply not available if The corporation were not there. When he started his position, he said, there were only five entities including the three counties, incorporated communities and two Indian reservations served by Bear Paw that were eligible for programs offered by the EDA. The members of Bear Paw now include Blaine, Chouteau, Liberty and Phillips counties; the cities of Havre, Chinook, Harlem, Fort Benton and Malta, the towns of Chester and Big Sandy; the Fort Belknap Community Council, the Chippewa-Cree Tribe of the Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation; and the Li t t le Shel l Tribe of Chippewa Indians of Montana. Rogers said that after he started in 1988, groups around the state would ask him what they needed to do to get economic development. “Fortunately, the model existed right here,” he said. Now 55 of the 56 counties in the state have organizations like Bear Paw. “It’s because of what you guys have been doing for 40 years,” he said. Preite listed some of the successes Bear Paw has had over the years, including helping start the Chinook Motor Inn; getting a water supply to the newly built Northern Montana Hospital; helping Chester create its community grocery store; helping create the Dry Forks Farm operation at Rocky Boy and with the creation of Bear Paw Ski Bowl; helping with the restoration of the Grand Union Hotel and other projects in Fort Benton; helping communities improve or create water systems throughout the region; the creation of the hospital now operating in Malta and helping create Peaks and Prairies LLC, which manufactures biobased oils and lubricants, also in Malta. Some of Bear Paw’s successes have gone, but the corporation cont inues to create new successes, Preite added. Bear Paw helped with t h e c r e a t i o n o f L i b e r t y Manufacturing in Chester, which no longer operates, but the corporation also helped local entrepreneurs Brett Earl and Logan Fisher start Earl Fisher BioFuels in Chester. Preite said there have been some difficult times at one point, he wasn’t sure whether Bear Paw’s staff should come in to work because he didn’t know if the money would be there to pay them but the return has been more than worth it. Preite said that, at that time, he did some figuring on the return of the local dollars invested in case he needed to ask for local support to pay his employees. Bear Paw had returned to the community $140 for every dollar invested, he said. “I just wish my 401K would do that,” he added. He s a i d t h e n H i l l County Commissioner Dan Morse, chair of Bear Paw’s board at the time, was ready to pay the checks out of his own pocket, but the money from the EDA came just in time. That shows one of the most important, but perhaps sometimes forgotten, parts of Bear Paw’s success, Preite said. The commitment of its board and of the local governments and Main Street Montana is what makes the projects work. “It takes all of you to make success,” Preite said. He added that the continuity of leadership is also a part of that commitment and of Bear Paw’s victories. In it’s 40 years, Bear Paw essentially has had five chairs of its board: former Havre City Council member Don Finley, Morse, former Havre Mayor Don Driscoll, former Blaine County Commissioner Art Kleinjan and current chair Shaud Schwarzbach of the Big Sandy City Council; Bozo Adams o f Fort Belknap was the first chair for just a few months before resigning due to health reasons. The leadership of the staff has also had incredible continuity: The first executive director, Charlie Soo, held the position just for a short period before Preite took over. He was followed by Herman Tushaus, who held the position for a short time, with Preite coming back for a time before Dick King took the position. Paul Tuss, the current executive director, took over in 2000. Preite said all indications are that after 40 years of work, Bear Paw’s successes will continue. “You can all be assured that Bear Paw Development’s work has just begun,” he said.