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State business officer talks economics in Havre


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Gov. Brian Schweitzer's chief business officer was in Havre Tuesday to talk about the state of the economy of the state and to answer questions, touting the achievements of Schweitzer and Bear Paw Development Corp. in the process. Evan Barrett met with local leaders at Bear Paw's office Tuesday morning, starting the meeting with a PowerPoint presentation on the state of the economy and initiatives the state government is pursuing. In his opening, Barrett said the region is fortunate to have as well-established and successful an economic development entity as Bear Paw. "There is no question that we look at Bear Paw as one of the models, the way that economic development is supposed to be done on the local level," he said. He said the purpose of his presentation was to show the governor's vision for economic development in the state. "It's pretty straightforward: Diversify the economy, create more jobs, and in that process better-quality jobs," Barrett said. He said the state has fared well in the last six years, even with the two years of recession. "The Great Recession, as we like to call it," Barrett said, adding that it is the worst recession the United States has exper ienced s ince the Great Depression of the 1930s. Montana saw high job growth from 2005 through 2008, with 59,000 new jobs created, Barrett said. After the recession hit, the state lost about half of those, although three of the last four months saw an increase in jobs. The state also has been highly rated on several factors, including an improvement in the rating of the quality of jobs. In 1948, Montana was rated 10th in the nation, but by 1998 Montana was rated 51st, behind Puerto Rico. The state has been climbing back ever since, he said. The state has been ranked in surveys by several magazines, including being rated sixth in the nation for having the best overall tax climate and eighth best in the nation for the overall business climate. Th e ta x c l ima t e h a s improved, not because Montana has changed its tax structure but because other states have raised taxes to offset budget deficits. The state also has had the eighth-fastest growing economies in the nation for the last three years, Barrett added. "So our economy is good, compared to most other states. That being said, it's not good enough," he said. Barrett said some of the strengths are having a strong resource and energy economy, growth in technology and research, and a tourism industry that has remained strong. "And, finally, our secret weapon is its attractiveness as a place to live and do business … ," he said, adding that the state needs to be careful in making decisions. "We can't lose our unique quality of life in the process of changing our economy. It's a real secret weapon for us," he said. He said the state economy has weathered the recession better than many, as Montana and North Dakota are the only states with budget surpluses rather than a deficit. Part of that is Schweitzer's willingness to veto spending bills he thinks are not needed, regardless of which party proposes the spending, Barret added. He said one of Schweitzer's main focuses is in energy development, in all areas including oil and coal as well as alternative energy. "Energy is the economic driver, the main economic driver, in the state," Barrett said. Schweitzer is working on several initiatives, including in developing coal harvesting in the state, adding to oil pipeline connections, and working on increasing alternative energy like biofuel production and wind energy farms.


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