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Bear Paw Development celebrates 50th Aniversary


Havre Daily News/Ryan Berry

Tony Preite, right, shakes hands with Paul Tuss after delivering a speechduring Bear Paw Development Corp. 50th anniversary reception Thursday at the Havre Historic Post Office in Havre.

Bear Paw Development Corp. held a luncheon, tour and concert celebrating its 50-year anniversary Thursday.

"The partnership between the (U.S. Economic Development Administration) and Bear Paw represents, I think, the very best of how we can work together to empower and strengthen regions," EDA Denver Regional Director Angela Belden Martinez said at the luncheon. "In your counties, cities, small towns and tribal lands, our partnership and your grit has turned economic challenges into economic opportunities."

From city fire trucks to breweries, Bear Paw has helped northern Montana communities grow and maintain a livable place for community members.

Bear Paw was established in 1969, the same year as Astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first man to set foot on the surface of the moon, Martinez said. Just as the country was moving into a new frontier, Bear Paw was forging its own frontier.

Since 2006, Bear Paw's Economic Development District, coordinated $139,344,049 for projects through the state, federal and local government sources. In the past 35 years, Bear Paw's business lending has leveraged $60 million for more than 319 private sector start-ups and expansions, creating about 1,516 jobs within 31 years.

She said Bear Paw and its community partners have made northern Montana stronger, creating a better quality of life for those within its economic development district. She added that Bear Paw also serves as a cornerstone and template for other economic development corporations on how to assist struggling communities and helps prepare communities within its district for the 21st century.

For every dollar which is invested into Bear Paw from the local communities it leverages $27.08 for local governments.

"To community leaders, elected officials, residence, thank you for working to promote collaboration and economic opportunities," she said.

"Entrepreneurship is the engine of our economy," she said.

Former Bear Paw Development Executive Director Tony Preite said that when Bear Paw first started, many people were confused by what the objective of Bear Paw was, but, in time, saw the benefits and the positive work it was doing. Bear Paw has become the premiere economic development corporation, with the most productive, efficient, multi-county district in the country.

"I do not make that statement lightly," he said.

He added that in 1961 Congress formed the Area Redevelopment Administration Office, which eventually missed its target in rural America and in 1965 was replaced with the Economic Development Administration, which was under the U.S. Department of Commerce. The purpose of the agency was to promote economic development in rural communities.

"And that's what it does today," he said.

Martinez said Preite is known as "the godfather of economic development."

After leaving Bear Paw, Preite continued in economic development including serving as the first Montana director of the newly created U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development, director in Denver of Region 8 for the Economic Development Administration and director of the Montana Department of Commerce.

Bear Paw Development Executive Director Paul Tuss said that Preite, also well-known for his work in economic development has also served the north-central Montana community as a mentor and friend.

Preite said that because of Bear Paw having leaders like Tuss, and his predecessors, such as Vern Griffiths of Butte who originally invested in Bear Paw and helped establish the economic development corporation, Bear Paw has been able to make a great impact to the communities within its district.

"Bear Paw has the reputation to do the impossible," Preite said.

Martinez said that Tuss has been involved with Bear Paw for almost half of its history and understands the importance of a strong local economy and recognizes the importance of their local, state and federal partners.

Preite said that the staff at Bear Paw are also confident and committed to improving the district, carrying on a high level of professionalism throughout five decades.

"It is an honor and pleasure, what an occasion," he added.

Bear Paw was also celebrating the 10th anniversary of its partnership with the Brownfield Program of the Environmental Protection Agency, which identifies and cleans up contaminated properties and gets them back into use for commercial, retail or economic development in some fashion.

Program Officer Barbara Benoy said that the program has been in existence for the past 20 years and Bear Paw has been a partner for half that time and has helped make it one of the most robust programs in the state.

Havre Daily News/Ryan Berry

Paul Tuss, right, executive director of Bear Paw Development Corporation, mills about and speaks with attendees prior to the beginning of Bear Paw Development's 50th anniversary reception Thursday at the Havre Historic Post Office in Havre.

"They are the most prolific, you guys have done such a good job," she said.

She added that she wanted to thank Bear Paw and everyone who had a hand in the development of the corporation as well as making the district something everyone can be proud of.

Tuss said he also wanted to recognize community leaders, local elected officials, Bear Paw's employees and board members, and the communities within the district for its continued support of Bear Paw. He added that he also wanted to recognize board member Richard Sangrey, who has been on the board for Bear Paw since 1975, and is believed to be the longest-serving board member in any economic development corporation in the nation.

Martinez said that a year after Bear Paw was first established in 1969 the EDA invested a $100,000 grant in the corporation for job training and placement.

"Ever since, Bear Paw has continued to make an undeniable mark on the regional economy," she said.


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