By Ron VandenBoom
Mark O'Keefe, Democratic candidate for governor, in what will probably be his last visit to Havre before the Nov. 7 election, was confronted Wednesday by Sen. Greg Jergeson, D-Chinook, and MSU-Northern Chancellor, Alex Capdeville with concerns over Northern's proposed Applied Technology Center.
In a brief meeting just prior to a hand-shaking tour through downtown Havre, Jergeson and Capdeville expressed their concern that a preliminary project list released by the Montana Board of Regents did not include the technology center. The document listed the top 10 capital bonding programs the regents will recommend to the legislature for funding.
"My understanding is that it was ranked at the top of MSU's list in terms of their preferences," O'Keefe said. "And it's unusual because normally when they receive the planning money you can count on the money for the construction the next session."
The last legislative session approved $50,000 in planning money for the Havre project.
"In my mind it's just another example that Judy Martz's administration just doesn't get it," O'Keefe said. "You need to train workers for high-tech skilled positions."
Northern did get the regents' nod for a $1.35 million upgrade for Cowan Hall and a new $15 million building at the College of Technology in Helena also made the list, but the $4.2 million for the technology center did not.
"We were disappointed in it," Capdeville said, adding that he understood that the College of Technology in Helena would be in the top slot for funding, but had believed Northern would be placed second. "We're hopeful that it will get put back in."
Capdeville said Northern had already started working on attracting private entities to help fund the project explaining that the $4.2 million Northern was hoping to get from the legislature was just part of the cost of the facility.
"We're going to have to raise some private money for match," he said. "But it's very difficult to raise the private money without the commitment the money from the state."
Capdeville said he had no idea why the funding was not included in the project list and he noted that he had already contacted the Commissioner of Higher Education Office in Bozeman. He did not say whether his phone call had been productive.
"Whatever we do with Toyota Corporation, G.E. or whoever," he said. "We need to have that facility."
Capdeville also referred to the to the new center as a recruitment tool.
"It's programs like that and facilities like that that bring students here," he said.
O'Keefe said the partnership with General Electric in Havre is an excellent example of the private/public partnership that allows Montanans to stay here and work.
Partnerships between the private and public sector has been one of the mainstays of the O'Keefe gubernatorial campaign and he said he believes that the decision by the Board of Regents essentially doesn't recognize the importance of the Applied Technology Center to economic development.
"Not just to Havre but across the whole Hi-Line," he said.
O'Keefe said he thinks this was a mistake to cut the funding off before they get to solutions that work.
"This should be something we will be struggling with over the next 60 days," he said.