The U.S. 93 bypass, Glacier Rail Park and the reconstruction of Going-to-the-Sun Road have one thing in common. All three projects were once included on the community wish lists that shaped the Flathead Valley’s comprehensive economic development strategy in years past.
Every five years, Montana West Economic Development embarks on a regional improvement plan, but it’s a process that is purely grassroots, according to Kim Morisaki, business development director for Montana West.
“This is a process meant to be open to anyone in the community,” she said. “They don’t need to know the ‘language’ of economic development. It’s an opportunity to talk about what they want for their community.”
The process began Tuesday at a Chamber of Commerce lunch in Columbia Falls, where residents pondered how to best use the town’s “Gateway to Glacier” status and how to harness the economic development that has been created by new businesses and redevelopment underway along the town’s main street, Nucleus Avenue.
Meetings will be held in five other local communities in the coming weeks.
“It’s a place to gather what is on the community’s mind right now,” Morisaki said.
Many projects identified through past community planning processes have materialized.
The Glacier Airline Enhancement and Retention Outreach (AERO) organization, which has successfully helped expand air service in the Flathead, is one of the local improvements generated from survey feedback from previous years, Morisaki said.
Suggestions can be wide-ranging, she added. Workforce housing has been a constant need for many years. Other topics that routinely make the community priority lists are preserving water, timber and agriculture.
The public is invited to offer input through an online survey, www.surveymonkey.com/r/FlatheadCEDS and/or by attending public input sessions to be offered in each of the valley’s communities.
Economic development agencies depend heavily upon feedback from a cross-section of the citizenry to produce the comprehensive economic development strategy, a prerequisite to applying for grants and federal funding.
“By spending just five minutes on a simple survey, people can help shape what priorities we pursue over the next five years,” Morisaki said.
Upcoming community sessions include:
• Whitefish – March 30, 8 a.m., National Parks Realty, 601 Spokane Ave.
• Evergreen - April 17, 3:45 p.m., Perkins backroom - 1390 U.S. 2 E.
• Lakeside - April 18, 3:45 p.m., The Gathering Place behind the Lakeside Community Chapel, 238 Adams St.
• Bigfork – April 25, 3:45 p.m., Glacier Bank - 8251 Montana 35.
• Kalispell - April 26, 12:30 p.m., Montana West Economic Development members meeting, 44 Second Ave. W.
Features editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or email@example.com.