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Bear Paw gets new grant to help local economy during pandemic


Last updated 8/27/2020 at 11:36am

The federal government has awarded a local agency additional funds to help the local area weather the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bear Paw Development Corp. received a $400,000 grant through the Economic Development Administration as part of the federal government’s response to COVID-19.

“We’re very pleased about it,” Bear Paw Development Corp. Executive Director Paul Tuss said. “The EDA has been a foundational partner of ours for 51 years now. We are Montana’s longest-serving economic district and we’ve got a very solid relationship with the Economic Development Administration, and so we are very pleased they are entrusting us with these funds to do what we can do to assist the economy here in Northern Montana.”

He said Bear Paw Development will be utilizing these funds to assist further for the infrastructural enhancements that are important to the five-county region it covers.

Local government coffers have been hit hard in some cases, he said, with businesses unable to pay their property taxes because no one is walking through the front door.

“All of that compounds itself and makes financing for infrastructure more difficult, and so part of what we’re doing is to enhance our capacity as a nonprofit organization to help our local governments find funding for their infrastructure needs,” Tuss said.

He added that Bear Paw will also utilize these funds to enhance the region’s value-added agriculture opportunities.

Agriculture, he said, is the backbone of these regions’ economy.

“So what we would like to do with part of this, and what we’re committed to doing, is find those areas and the value-added ag arena that we can really take to the next level,” he said. “If that means producing bread out of wheat, if it is making something from our other products that we are growing — the cattle that we are raising and just doing something other than exporting our raw products elsewhere.”

He said Bear Paw thinks a significant opportunity exists in the region, even under normal circumstances, but certainly now COVID has hit to help farmers and ranchers with value-add ag opportunities.

The funds will also be utilized by doing some resilience planning for the future, Tuss said, certainly both for now, but as looking toward the future how to create a more resilient economy in Northern Montana.

“What are those things that are on the horizon that perhaps you can predict and those things that you can’t predict, but how do we make ourselves a little more resilient and so when the crisis comes along we’re far better able to deal with it, than perhaps we were with COVID-19 — it caught us by surprise,” he added. “Those are all parts and pieces of this grant that we’ve received and this is a two-year grant, so it just started and 24 months is when it will be ending.”

He said economic development districts throughout the country received similar amounts of funding to help battle the economic difficulties that have come through COVID-19 and the shutdown of the economy.

Aside from the grant and with COVID, he said, Bear Paw Development has been working with businesses during the pandemic.

“We’re helping businesses keep their doors open as best as we can,” Tuss said. “At any given time, we probably have 70 or 80 businesses that are part of our loan department’s portfolio, and we do a lot of lending.”

He said Bear Paw is continuing to do lending to small businesses who have expansion plans or even entrepreneurs who have a new idea to start a business.

A lot of the work Bear Paw has been involved with both through the loan department and small business development is providing technical assistance to businesses and making sure that they have whatever resources are needed to keep them alive at this point, he said.

He added that a lot of that has to do with additional funding from the Small Business Administration, the Montana Department of Commerce, and other federal and state resources that have become available to these small businesses in this time of crisis.


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