|June 26, 2014
Main Street Montana Project kicks off on the Flathead Reservation
By Lailani Upham
Lt. Gov. Angela McLean provides participants an outline of Gov. Bullock’s Main Street Montana Project plan and how it applies to Indian Country to increase jobs and grow the economy. (Lailani Upham photo)
PABLO — A project commissioned by Governor Steve Bullock that aims to gather information and ideas around the State of Montana and each Indian Reservation to make a blueprint for creating and keeping jobs was launched last year with roundtable discussions in several towns and now the tour is beginning throughout Indian Country this summer – Flathead Reservation being the kickoff.
The plan is the Main Street Montana Project.
Last Wednesday, Lt. Governor Angela McLean travelled on behalf of Gov. Bullock to meet with Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribal council and to co-host a conversation with tribal community members, particularly those who work in the areas of education and economic development.
Over 50 participants attended the meeting and included tribal business owners, public school superintendents, SKC President Robert DePoe III, and state legislators to discuss priorities and listened to concerns.
“It is a great cross section of people who care so very much. I am grateful to be with tribal leaders; it is humbling to see so many people care so much and discuss concerns to bring meaningful long-term solutions,” McLean said.
Lt. Gov. McLean said she worked with Jason Smith, Montanan Director of Indian Affairs; and Casey Lozar, State Tribal Economic Development Commission, to invite key people to the meeting. “They both spoke highly about the tribes contributions to the community, she said.
“Lt. Governor Angela McLean has taken the leadership role on this reservation tour to make sure we listen to the priorities and identify our partners to implement objectives and tasks of the community. She is determined to respond rapidly and carry out the deliverables. She has been amazing to work with on this project,” stated Smith.
Last year during the discussions around the state, Bullock likened the effort to developing a business plan, which he deems any successful business must ensure.
The project is also an effort to fulfill Bullock’s duty to come up with a “strategic economic development plan” for the state and tribes.
One of Bullock’s top Montana business man, Bill Johnstone, chairman and CEO OF D.A. Davidson & Company, stated the project is different from prior state plans because it is “business- and community–driven,” with a bottom-up approach of getting doable ideas from local people who know the business landscape.
The same approach is being done in Indian Country.
The project for the state communities are in the survey phase where each county will collect information on regulations, workforce development, education and other components of economic development.
The idea is get a good discussion about what are the drivers of Montana’s economy and then compare and take notes on what’s going on in surrounding states.
Bullock’s Main Street Montana Project 90-page report outlines five pillars: train and educate tomorrow’s workforce today; create a climate that attracts, retains, and grows businesses; build upon Montana’s economic foundation; market Montana; and nurture emerging industries and encourage innovation, which is used as framework for Indian Country strategies as well.
“Governor Steve Bullock is committed to including Indian Country in the development and implementation of the business plan to assist developing our economies and creating educational opportunities. He has been consistently working to improve our effort to create opportunities for native communities. This is a dynamic government-to-government consultation process and sets a great tone for us to repeat during our tour,” Smith stated.
The report identifies Indian Country with diversity and says the economies in each Reservation community are just as diverse. All 12 tribes on the seven reservations retain powers of self-governance and make decisions that affect their economies both separate and in concert with the state.
McLean stated the plan is an extraordinary government-to-government platform that she hopes will stream great opportunities to the Flathead Reservation.
She said the community meeting was not merely a conversation to be had, but an opportunity to create business with and for the people.
Casey Lozar, State Tribal Economic Development Director talks about identifying the pillars in the plan that are critical to push the economy opportunities for tribal communities as well. (Lailani Upham photo)
She included she was impressed to see the partnerships that are happening today within the reservation boundaries. “What has signaled here today is that folks want to be a part of this partnership,” McLean said.
The MSMP Indian Country survey included information from Native and non-Native residents living on and off reservations. The basic themes coincided with the state the report stated.
Participants in the discussions and surveys revealed education was of importance in Indian Country; the need for business friendly climate and a call for innovation – and of course education being the largest asset for promoting economic strength.
Tribal colleges were named a main source for economic opportunity along with cultural learning with potential of even more.
Bullock’s report states with improved coordination between tribal and state university systems will help students transfer between the two and help foster businesses with the need for tribal workforce training programs that will advance work readiness skills and mentoring efforts.
Participants for Indian Country set priorities to increase capital and encourage growth of existing businesses. Programs like the Montana Indian Equity Fund and the State Tribal Economic Development Commission Indian Equity Fund, Native Community Financial Institutions and also tribal revolving loan funds are meant to help fuel access to capital for Indian businesses.
One barrier participants found regarding economic growth in Indian Country is the lack of understanding by companies doing business on reservations. A way to address it participants found was to ask the STEDC to provide ambassadors to communicate and advocate with private interests and help business owners make use of the unique opportunities.
The STED strategic plan does include directive to connect businesses to programs that offer technical assistance and recruit businesses to locate in reservation communities.
Bullock said when the project began that the plan is meant to be ongoing, and won’t be just a development of initiatives for the next Legislature in 2015.
The hopes are to have real growth with the state and within Indian Country and the tour is very important to the governor’s office says Lt. Gov. McLean.
McLean said the community meetings tour to all the reservations in Montana will continue until mid-August.
Johnstone said the position of the plan is a good time to look at how the world is changing and adapt to it. He said the effort is “driven by facts, not ideology.”