By Ron VandenBoom
Roberta Demarest, Democratic candidate for House District 91, said she believes that many of Montana's economic problems could be solved by taking a new look at the way things are done.
"There needs to be more local awareness that we can do something about it," she said, referring to the depressed state of agriculture. "We don't market our resources well within Hill County."
The problem, Demarest said, stems from the fact that producers feel this is the way things have always been done and either don't know how to change or are unwilling to change.
"We allow our producers to market their own product," she said. "They neither have the time or the education for that. They need to expand the way they think about their own product."
Demarest said she believes farmers are producers not marketers.
"That's what they're good at and that's where most of their time should be spent," she said, adding that for years they have produced the same product in the same way and marketed it to the same business.
Demarest recommends farmers first consider how they can add value to their products and network together to find alternative means to market their products.
"And stop thinking in terms of a single product," Demarest said.
Demarest suggested ethanol as one value added product producers might consider and using straw in the production of strawboard as another. She also suggested that Premium Pork of Montana (PPM) consider alternative uses for pork.
She speculated a genetic research lab could be included in PPM's plans for the old radar base thus giving value added potential to PPM's hog raising facility.
Human skin grafts and organ transplants using hog tissue is currently being tested within the medical community around the country.
"It's a better method of dealing with the agricultural down-turn than paying the farmers not to produce," she said.
Demarest said she believes governments role in agriculture is to educate producers in marketing new value added products.
Demarest said she has become involved in political situations and the economy of Havre and decided to run for office because she feels she can make a difference.
"I think I can create some economic upswings and awareness that isn't happening on capital hill (Helena) right now," she said. "I think I can make a difference for the local economy."
Demarest started her own business BRAND (Business Research Applied Network Development) in June 1999 and says her work has given her unique opportunity to study the local economy and gain insight into creating effective change.
Some of that change she said she hopes to bring to education.
"Teachers' wages need to be based on productivity as opposed to the number of students they teach or the number of years they have taught," she said, when asked about higher salaries for teachers. "There simply is no mechanism now where wages can reflect productivity."
She also stands firmly against consolidation of some smaller school districts as a solution to financial problems in smaller rural districts. She suggests instead that teachers be bussed from school to school to fill shortages rather than bussing students longer distances to and from school.
Demarest said she is undecided at this time what should be done with the more than $900 million Montana expects to receive over the next 29 years in tobacco settlement money, noting that there is no shortage of options and suggestions that need to be considered.
She also said she believes the tax structure in Montana needs to be examined to determine whether or not it is keeping new businesses from locating in Montana and, as she suspects, hurting existing businesses.
"I think we're just taxing our businesses out of business," she said.