Regional Economic Diversification

By Adam Jerome, I-O Reporter
Regional Economic Diversification
Joe Briggs ~ Cascade County Commissioner
   On July 22 the Great Falls Development Authority met to present the initial rollout of the Diversification Project Strategy Report.
   This project was initiated as the result of the loss of the 564th Missile Squadron on Malmstrom Air Force Base in July of 2007.
   As part of proactive strategy development, local leadership realized the need to look further at economic diversification to truly offset impacts from the loss of the 564th squadron.  Cascade County applied for funding on behalf of the affected areas to conduct a regional economic diversification project that would quantify the economic impacts of the 50 missiles that were lost.
   The counties affected include Pondera, Cascade, Glacier, Teton, and Toole with the communities of Conrad, Cut Bank, Choteau, Browning, Great Falls, Shelby and Valier all being labeled as the Sweet Grass area.
   When the Malmstrom Air Force Base 564th squadron was eliminated that meant that the Sweet Grass area lost 50 missiles and 550 personnel.  
   After the removal a bigger tax burden was created on the citizens of the Sweet Grass area, because the government quit paying for county roads leading to the missile sites.
   Another impact came through economic losses as well.  It is estimated that the counties involved lost over $32 million.  Over $20 was lost as direct payroll.  School funding has also been affected due to the loss in tax base.
   With that much lost money in the Sweet Grass area the Great Falls Development Authority hired the Praxis Strategy Group (PSG) to assess the advantages and disadvantages in the economic sector while also looking at the area overall population demographic.
   Since 2003 these counties have lost around one percent of their population.  When examined further PSG found that the lowest percentage of people in the area are in the crucial 20-39 age range.  These people tend to be the majority of your workforce.
   PSG discovered that the biggest employers in the region are in government, trade, transportation, and utilities.
   After looking at the basic demographics of the area they began to look at the regional workforce.  Over 62 percent of the workforce has some education or training beyond high school, 22 percent have an undergraduate degree, and eight percent have a post graduate degree of some kind.