Chamber will survey business community's resources


A Havre Area Chamber of Commerce committee is working to map the assets of the Havre business community.

The Business Development Committee of the Chamber is meeting every Tuesday morning through August so it can design a survey to document what the Havre business community has to offer, Craig Erickson of Bear Paw Development Corp. said today.

"It certainly can't hurt and the benefits will be very substantial," Erickson said.

Debbie Vandeberg, executive director of the Chamber, said mapping business assets has been an idea the Chamber has discussed for some time. The Business Development Committee met Tuesday for the first time to start planning the actual survey, she said.

A reason the committee decided to work on the survey now is so the results can be used by a resource assessment team that will visit Havre and Hill County in November, she added. It also will be available for use by the city and county governments, Havre Public Schools, Bear Paw Development, the District IV Human Resources Development Council and local businesses, she said.

"I'm sure it will become a useful tool," she said.

Hill County Commissioner Kathy Bessette said the commission has strongly supported doing the asset and resource assessments.

"We thought it would be a super idea," she said. "Maybe it will help us get going in the correct direction as far as economic development."

Erickson said he will start designing the survey this week, and the Business Development Committee will then start working with him to finalize it. The survey will probably be available online and on paper, and the survey will be conducted by Bear Paw Development in August or September, he said.

The survey will be part of the resource team assessment. The teams, coordinated by the Montana Economic Developers Association, visit communities and talk to residents to determine what steps can be taken to improve the community and its economy.

Teams have already done assessments in Liberty County, Chinook and Big Sandy and Rocky Boy. Malta is on the list of future assessments, along with Hill County.

Big Sandy also did an asset mapping survey before a resource assessment team visited the town, Erickson said.

"We're taking a page from the Big Sandy process," he said.

The survey for Havre will be similar, but tailored to the community.

"This will be a very unique Havre survey," he said.

Asset-mapping surveys have been used around the country for several years, reflecting a new focus in planning, but Big Sandy's survey was the first Erickson knows of in Montana, he said. The results of its survey would fill a three-ring binder, he added.

"The focus is on what we have instead of what we don't have. That's the whole philosophy of the asset-mapping process," he said.

One of the positives the survey could measure are skills available in the area. For instance, businesses are facing a critical shortage of skilled welders, Erickson said. The survey could identify people in the agricultural sector or in other fields who can weld and may be available to work as welders. "Havre's got a lot of talented people and and we're just trying to quantify and put in a database what those talents are, who those people are, and maybe match those people with employers," he said.

Erickson said he will present the results of the asset mapping in Big Sandy on Monday.

One of the items that was surveyed in Big Sandy was who owns power tools and heavy equipment that could be used in projects around the community.

The resource assessment team that visited Big Sandy is presenting its report there on Wednesday.

The resource assessment teams, composed of planning professionals from outside the community, ask different demographic, political and business groups in the communities they visit three questions: What are the community's strengths? What are its weaknesses? What projects would the people like to see done?

Each member of the team writes a seperate report, each of which is included in the final report along with lists of the assets, liabilities and projects each group identified.

The team returns in six to eight weeks to present its report, and follows up with meetings in six months and a year.

In Liberty County, one of the suggestions made by the team was to promote local artists and craftspeople to strenthen the economy. The report made several suggestions, including holding workshops, putting more local art on display at the arts center and developing a brochure.

Another suggestion, common to the Chinook, Big Sandy and Liberty County reports, was to place billboards on the highway letting travelers know about the attractions available in the communities.

Another topic in all three reports was how to keep local people shopping locally. One suggestion was to provide information about the cost of driving 150 or more miles round-trip to shop. Another was better marketing of what the towns have available.


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