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Forum set Wednesday on eastern Montana development

Montana State University-Northern in Havre will be represented at Miles Community College in Miles City Wednesday, talking about how the Montana education system can help with workforce development and other issues with the population and economic boom in eastern and northeastern Montana.

Tony Preite, director of university outreach and economic development at Northern — who U. S. Sen. Max Baucus appointed as multi-agency rural development coordinator for energy-impacted communities — said this morning that in talking to people in regions affected by the Bakken development, many have talked about the lack of housing and infrastructure and a shortage in law enforcement, but also talked about jobs.

"On a number of occasions, people said, 'You know, we're getting employment but we're not getting the really good-paying professional-type positions, they're all coming in from Texas and Oklahoma and other places …, '" Preite said.

"We thought, well, maybe they don't really know what's being offered to them, what's available to them here. "

Sen. Max Baucus, who has started the Eastern Montana Workforce Development Initiative in an effort to hook job opportunities in the booming area with programs in the Montana education system, helped provide funding for the forum.

The Eastern Montana Development Program will start with an introduction by Miles Community College President Stefani Hicswa and Preite, followed by a working lunch and then the rollout of the Eastern Montana Energy Workforce Development Initiative.

That presentation will include Northern Chancellor Jim Limbaugh and Greg Kegel, dean of the College of Technical Sciences at Northern, as well as Hicswa, Fort Peck Community College President Florence Garcia, and representatives of communities in the region and industries.

Limbaugh said this morning that the forum is a development in convergent ideas in the Montana University System and Baucus' office.

"MSU-Northern is really happy to be able to be in a position to help support the senator's initiative, " he said.

Both groups began working on ideas to deal with the economic and population expansion, and workforce needs involved, at about the same time, Limbaugh said, "to be able to offer a coordinated approach to workforce development. "

Preite said another factor in the forum will be gathering representatives of agencies like U. S. Housing and Urban Development, U.S. D.A. Rural Development, the U. S. Economic Development Administration, U.S. Small Business Administration and Montana Department of Commerce programs to answer people's questions about what is available to help with construction and development in impacted communities.

Preite said time will be set aside at the end of the forum for people to talk one-on-one with the people from those programs.

"You can't do housing unless you have the infrastructure to support it … so we're trying to tie the whole thing together, " he said.

The forum — and the initiative — are intended to provide a clearinghouse of information and ideas about training and programs to help companies and communities deal with their needs.

Preite said more than 100 people had registered to attend the forum by this morning.

He said the forum could work well to showcase to the communities — and the companies developing the Bakken — that Montana graduates can fill the positions available.

"The point we really wanted to get across to the energy developers was, look, the Montana units of higher education have a whole plate of curriculum available … that can be part of specialty needs that you may have, and if we don't have a particular curriculum or type of training we will work with you, and we will establish one …, " Preite said. "I think we can provide the training, the credentials, for Montana workers to be employed in the higher-paying jobs, because we've got a good workforce. "


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