By Ron VandenBoom
Paul Tuss, the new executive director of Bear Paw Development Corporation, told the North Montana Pachyderm Club Friday the organization is a model, not just locally, but nationally.
Tuss, who came to Havre from Cut Bank where he was the director of Glacier Action and Involvement Now (GAIN), referred to Bear Paw as the oldest organization of its kind in Montana and, for that matter, in a multi-state region.
"It's a wonderfully professional staff," Tuss said. "And a one-stop economic development organization."
Tuss told the Pachyderms that Bear Paw is the only economic development organization that provides a complete range of development services to its clients.
He divided the corporation into four departments, each dealing with individual aspects of economic development.
The first department is the SBDC (Small Business Development Center), Tuss said, and is funded by the Montana Department of Commerce and the Small Business Administration. It is utilized when someone wants to start a business or expand an existing business.
Tuss said that, unlike a bank, the development center can provide businesses with counseling on how to successfully run the business.
"A bank can't tell you how to run your business if they are lending you money," he said.
Bear Paw also offers a loan department that represents the second program.
Tuss said the department was started about 12 years ago and has grown into seven separate loan programs.
"Over 12 years, we have made 212 loans," Tuss said, adding that these loans represent approximately $14.5 million in economic development. Not included, he said, is the ripple effect these loans would have throughout the community.
The Planning Department, Tuss said, is the newest department at Bear Paw.
Tuss described the program as a department that helps communities determine what their future is going to be.
Tuss said that currently the department is working with communities such as Chester and Liberty County to complete a comprehensive planning process that asks the question: "What do you want the community to look like in the year 2020?"
The department can then work with CTEP (Community Transportation Enhancement Program) funds to help create the infrastructure necessary to meet their goals.
The fourth department Tuss referred to is what he called the infrastructure department.
This department deals with the development, replacement or upgrading of water and sewer projects.
"It is not the sexiest department," Tuss said. "But it is essential."
It is also one of the original departments of Bear Paw Development.
Tuss told the Pachyderms there are a variety of ways Bear Paw is funded, including receiving funds from municipalities that pay annual fees to belong to Bear Paw. That money, he said, is matched by the Economic Development Administration.
Bear Paw also receives funding through its loan department and interest received off of the loans it makes.
Additional funding comes from administration fees collected by Bear Paw from administering grant money that is applied for by business or other entities that look to the corporation for funding.
Tuss said that one fallacy surrounding Bear Paw is that it is a place you can go to get free money.
"There is no free money," he said. "These grants are loans and need to be paid back."
Tuss said the upcoming legislative session is going to be very involved with the subject of economic development and he expects Bear Paw to be involved in that debate at some level.
Tuss said his philosophy is that we have to look at economic development in regional terms.
"Let's put our resources together and try to do this regionally," he said. "It makes a lot more sense and we get a lot more bang for the buck that way."