GFDA welcomes public participation in meeting on local economy

The Great Falls Development Authority (GFDA) is hosting a strategic planning community meeting on Wednesday and invites the public not only to attend, but to participate.

GFDA is keen to hear from community members to gather information on strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to the local economy as the department begins the process of creating a regional economic development strategy.

“Next Wednesday night, it won’t be a presentation, it will be: listen,” said Brett Doney, president and CEO of GFDA.

The Event will be at the Great Falls College MSU campus in room B101, take the south entrance and use gate seven, 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Doney said the department tweaks its strategic plan every year, but said it’s important to start with a clean slate every now and then, especially when there’s been major economic disruption around the world.

“That’s why we’re going through a much larger process this year than we usually would,” said Doney.

Doney said the department hired consultants to help develop the strategic plan, including business developer Dean Barber of Barber Business Advisors in Texas, a defense industry specialist to help attract and retain jobs related to defense manufacturing and cybersecurity, etc., and a logistics and global supply chain specialist to help understand logistics and manufacturing.

He said the consultants will collect responses from the meeting on Wednesday and hold another meeting in October, along with submissions for an online survey for people who cannot attend in person. The hope for the development of the strategic plan, he said, would be to involve local organizations and agencies, “so we are all working on the same plan.”

Existing partnerships, he said, include the Chamber of Commerce, Great Falls Tourism, NeighborWorks Great Falls, Great Falls MSU, Airport Authority, city and county, among others.

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

Doney said the current strategic plan focuses on closing the gap between the cost of living and the average wage.

“So that supports the creation of better paying jobs, as well as salaries, benefits, while trying to keep our community affordable or make it even more affordable,” Doney said.

Doney said Great Falls had made progress, saying when GFDA started wages were 67% of the national average and the estimated cost of living was between 93 and 97%. He said the average salary is now around 73% of the national average and the cost of living is slightly below 88% of the national average.

“So we’re making progress, not as much or as quickly as we would like, but it’s economic development goal is to improve the economic well-being of everyone in the community,” Doney said.

Doney acknowledged that some communities in the west, namely Bozeman, have seen the creation of wealth, but that many people have fallen even further behind.

“I’m not pointing the finger at Bozeman, Bozeman is a wonderful community, but how do you balance creating economic wealth, not just for a few, but for everyone, while remaining affordable,” Doney said. “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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