By Tim Leeds
The Montana Board of Regents has authorized the creation of the North American Futures Institute at Montana State University-Northern.
"This is really significant to us because now that we have formal Montana University System approval we can really start to look at different funding streams, different funding methods ," said Jonathon Richter, director of NARFI. "The goal now is to celebrate and let all of our partners know we are a research institute. It is official."
NARFI's purpose is to find ways for rural communities to participate in the nation's high tech economy.
"There are things going on all over the world; the world is in a flux because of this knowledge popping up," Richter said. NARFI is "kind of a radar scanning the world for rural interests and tailoring them back so people can take advantage of them."
The institute's initial focus will be on Havre and the district served by Bear Paw Development Corp. North Montana. NARFI intends to work closely with Bear Paw Development and the Havre and Hill County governments in its research and implementation of ideas, he said.
One of the first steps in developing opportunities for the region will be making an inventory of concerns and desires in the area, and Bear Paw Development already gathers this kind of information, he added.
Paul Tuss, executive director of Bear Paw Development, said that as a federally recognized economic development district, Bear Paw is required each year to submit a comprehensive report on the communities it serves, which includes information NARFI is seeking. As NARFI discusses the economic viability of rural areas in the future, Bear Paw Development and its research would be involved, he added.
The university authorization of NARFI is fantastic, Tuss said. "I'm just real pleased. This is an important step in the development of an institute that can be a real magnet for Montana State University-Northern and the region for economic development."
Richter said he wants to emphasize that NARFI's goal is to produce practical results.
"It's not a pie in the sky thing, it's about action," he said. "The institute is geared toward what is change, what kind of change is down the road and how can we leverage that instead of just kind of react to it. Technology is not the emphasis of NARFI. The emphasis is change."
Richter explained that NARFI intends to actively involve area communities in utilizing information the institute finds.
"This is not a strictly university thing; this is a town-and-gown relationship," he said.
Richter said the institute will need to find funding before its plans really blossom, but with the university system's support, finding that funding becomes much easier.
"The important thing is that the mechanism is there now, the ground is really fertile. Now what that opens the door for is for the university to sign off on grant applications and say, This is official,' and that's huge," he said. "With their approval it has a lot more credence and NARFI can leverage the expertise of the university behind these things."