By Michael Heins
Havre faces a major economic challenge as it enters the 21 century tied to Montana's stagnant growth, area developers agree.
Dick King, executive director of Bear Paw Development Corporation (BPDC), and Craig Erickson, a director, shared their vision for BPDC in Havre with The Daily News recently.
"Our vision for Havre is tied with the state's economic growth," King said. "With Montana ranking sixth in the nation for people living at the poverty level, 49th in annual, 47th in income per person and 43rd in the nation for teacher's salaries, Montana faces a major challenge economimcally.
"But Havre is not the worst off in the state and it is more economically stable than other communities throughout the state."
The vision of BPDC is not only to attract new businesses into the area but to help expand existing ones.
"Havre has the largest economic portfolios in the state," King said, "and we have built a fairly good loan program designed to help existing business."
The Bear Paw Development Corporation also has sponsored the Local Small Business Development center since 1992. This program provides counseling and technical assistance to clients wanting to start new businesses or needing help with their existing businesses. The BPDC works closely with banks to prepare applications for loan guarantees from the Small Business Administration and USDA/Rural Development.
"We are unlikely to attract any major manufacturers into our area, but E-commerce or any electronically-based companies are a more likely candidate for this area," King said. King did say that BPDC is talking to an unnamed corporation looking to build a telecommunications center in the Havre area. The corporation prefers to remain unnamed until plans are finalized.
"A CEO from this company will be arriving shortly to check out the feasibility of locating their company in the Havre area," King said. King was reluctant to release any further information until the company has come to a decision.
"More companies like this are looking to relocate to rural areas like Havre, because of a more stable work force here than in areas such as Western Washington, which has an unemployment rate of two percent and can't find enough of a stable work force to fill these positions," Erickson said.
King expressed one concern. "The BPDC will not do anything without addressing the concerns of the local population and gaining approval from the community first."
Another goal for the BPDP is to increase tourism in the area by trying to find ways to get people passing through on U.S. Highway 2 to stop for a few days and spend their money. It also plans to encourage the growth of agriculture-based processing companies in the area.
"The fundamental ingredient for overcoming economic barriers is education," King said. "We need to compete for good students, knowing that if we build a good telecommunication infrastructure, we could recruit directly from Northern. Our partnership with Northern is a key ingredient in building our economy."
The Bear Paw Development Corporation was established in 1968 with funding from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and covers a five-county area that includes Ft. Belknap and Rocky Boy's Indian reservations.
The BPDC was established to administer a program for improving regional economic conditions by coordinating economic planning and development among member entities, helping local government in planning public works, coordinating public and private investment by engaging in research, planning and advisory functions appropriate for the attainment of the BPDC, according to its 1999 comprehensive economic development strategy update.
It is a non-profit organization and has a board of directors with 18 members, 13 of whom are appointed by local government. Hill County and the city of Havre contribute one member apiece. The BPDC currently has a staff of about seven people.