Our Northcentral Montana communities define region-wide prosperity as having a healthy economy with good paying jobs and low unemployment. An economic base that is comprised of a diverse range of industries can withstand market cycles, offer diverse employment opportunities, and provide an avenue out of poverty. Our plan builds on the region’s strengths by broadening market opportunities for value added agriculture and tapping our potential for energy development in the region; developing community and policy infrastructure to place the region’s workforce in local jobs through high-roads-hiring (developing hiring and contracting agreements with employers, shifting contracting priorities of state agencies, counties, and cities to hire more locally); and strengthening the physical and social infrastructure necessary for supporting long-distance or remote service work such as those in the information technology, online servicing, and tele-health. Strengthening our telecommunications infrastructure will not only promote telework capabilities (allowing people to work at distant businesses), but generally support any business that relies significantly on internet; broadband improvements will build their capacity to start and operate a successful business and create jobs. Examples of the latter include e-commerce businesses, telemedicine service, and expanded commercial services.
To leverage local jobs, we need to be able to match employers’ needs with a skilled workforce. Montana State University-Northern, the three tribal colleges, and our other education partners have been and continue to be responsive to industry trends as evidenced by recent state and foundation funding to improve the trades, health, and energy course and training offerings. Our Promise Zone Plan will coordinate and position these training offerings as career pathways to our youth to help improve chances for employment upon graduation. Our communities advocated for developing apprenticeship pathways for high school students, industry partnerships for curriculum development and training, and promotion of agriculture careers through scholarships and leadership programs. A plan for responsive education also requires our training partners to help advance career options that improve access to services, support small businesses, and address trends. Examples include home health care providers for our increased aging population, energy efficiency retrofit training to renovate our aging housing stock, and e-commerce.
Small businesses make up most of our Northcentral Montana economy. Small businesses provide access to goods, services, and jobs in our remote communities and small towns. They are necessary for a more diverse and resilient economy but, most importantly, they are necessary for our communities’ survival. Our Promise Zone partners recognize the importance of small businesses and are working to promote and align existing programs, grants, and resources such that more supportive services to entrepreneurs and small business owners will be available. Businesses will also be better equipped to market themselves online and better equipped to conduct projects from hundreds or thousands of miles away, bringing new revenues into our region.
Finally, a vibrant Northcentral Montana region means embracing and celebrating its rural character. Our communities are committed and excited to revitalize their main streets, promote tourism and market the region’s uniqueness while connecting communities and improving quality of life for residents and visitors. Our return to rural campaign started with examining the coordination of a bike and hike trail network that will connect our various communities along the Hi-Line. Promise Zone partners are aiming to be part of Montana’s Main Street program and will be coordinating with tribal partners on an arts and culture tourism plan for the region. Similarly, tourism activities will bring new revenues, visitors, and hopefully entice residents back into our region.