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GFDA welcomes public participation in local business meetings

The Great Falls Development Authority (GFDA) is holding a meeting of the Strategic Planning Community on Wednesday and invites the public not only to attend, but also to attend.

The GFDA would like to hear from community members to gather information about the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to the local economy as the department begins creating a regional economic development strategy.

“Next Wednesday night will not be a presentation, it will be: Listen,” said GFDA President and CEO Brett Doney.

The event will take place on the Great Falls College MSU campus in room B101. Take the south entrance and use door seven, from 5:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.

Doney said the department adjusts its strategic plan every year, but said it was important to start with a clean sheet every now and then, especially when the world has seen major economic disruptions.

“So we’re going through a much bigger process this year than we normally would,” said Doney.

Doney said the department had hired consultants to help develop the strategic plan, including Texas-based economics developer Dean Barber of Barber Business Advisors, a defense industry specialist, to create jobs in defense industries, cybersecurity, logistics and global jobs Supply chain specialist to understand logistics and manufacturing.

He said the advisors will collect responses from the meeting on Wednesday and hold another meeting in October, as well as collect submissions from an online survey for those unable to attend in person. The hope for the development of the strategic plan is to involve local organizations and agencies, “so we all work according to the same blueprint”.

Existing partnerships include the Chamber of Commerce, Great Falls Tourism, NeighborWorks Great Falls, Great Falls MSU, the Airport Authority, the City and the County, among others.

As part of the strategic development process, Doney said the GFDA had also commissioned a market assessment of childcare services and was about to commission a housing market analysis.

Doney said the current strategic plan aims to close the gap between the cost of living and the median wage.

“So that helps create higher-paying jobs and benefits along with wages as we try to keep our community affordable or even more affordable,” said Doney.

Doney said that Great Falls had made some progress, saying that when GFDA started, wages were 67% of the national average and the estimated cost of living was between 93% and 97%. He said the median wage is now around 73% of the national average, while the cost of living is just under 88% of the national average.

“So we’re making some progress, not as much or as fast as we’d like, but that’s the purpose of economic development, to improve the economic well-being of everyone in the community,” said Doney.

Doney realized that some western communities, Bozeman in particular, were seeing wealth accumulation, but that many people were falling further behind.

“I’m not pointing a finger at Bozeman, Bozeman is a wonderful community, but how can we balance and keep economic wealth creation affordable for not just a few,” said Doney. “A great saying is that the tide lifts all boats unless you don’t have a boat, then you’re screwed.”

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