The head of the local economic development agency said Wednesday that he hopes Montana residents will contact legislators and the governor to ask for support of some programs that already have proven their worth.
“We’re hopeful the Legislature looks at the investment the state has already made in these important economic programs and continues to fund them. ” Paul Tuss, executive director of Bear Paw Development Corp., said. “We don’t want to take a step backward.”
Tuss said several cuts have been proposed by the Legislature, including cuts to the Department of Commerce eliminating the Energy Promotion and Development Division, cuts to the Primary Sector Job Workforce Training Grant Program, and cuts to the Big Sky Economic Development Trust Fund.
Tuss said the Montana Economic Developers Association has been highly focused on the Legislature and is pushing to protect state economic development programs.
One program that would be cut is the Montana Food and Agriculture Development Centers. Those centers are located in economic development organizations in rural parts of Montana, including Bear Paw. Havre is the largest community hosting one, Tuss added.
He said they have proven their worth — including in north-central Montana, helping people develop new products such as cheese, sausages, salsa, timber and wool, and investments in green energy. The center also has been crucial in the creation of the Montana Agro-Energy Industrial Park being built southwest of Havre and in the partnership wherein Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway is testing locally made biodiesel in a locomotive.
Overall, the $250,000 the state invested in the centers in 2010 had a $9.3 million return, Tuss said.
Another he focused on was the state’s program to help fund businesses training their employees. Montana was one of the last states to set up such a program, and it has seen great success, Tuss said.
The proposed cuts are being set up while Montana’s neighbors — including states in much more severe budget problems than Montana — are investing in economic development programs, Tuss said.
He added that the cuts to programs that help the economy and job creation are being proposed just as the state is trying to work out of the economic recession.
“You don’t cut off your nose to spite your face, ” Tuss said. “Now is the time to invest, not disinvest. ”