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Economic Development in Montana: Founded on Partnerships

Posted by Lisa Mensah, Undersecretary for Rural Development in Rural
Oct 07, 2015
Sen. Jon Tester (MT), Steve Stiles, Mayor of Big Sandy, Mont., and Lisa Mensah, USDA Under Secretary for Rural Development touring the new wastewater facility for Big Sandy
Sen. Jon Tester (MT), Steve Stiles, Mayor of Big Sandy, Mont., and Lisa Mensah, USDA Under Secretary for Rural Development tour the new wastewater facility for Big Sandy that was funded by USDA Rural Development.

One of the foundations of our work here in Rural Development is the close partnership we've developed with private sector entities like community and economic development organizations. A recent trip to Montana underscored that point as I visited several communities across the north central portion of the state.

Big Sandy, Montana is a salt-of-the-earth ag community, and also happens to be the home town of U.S. Senator Jon Tester. Senator Tester and I visited a newly completed wastewater project, as well as Big Sandy Activities - a center that helps developmentally disabled people build skills to allow them to live and work in the community. Both received funding support from USDA Rural Development, and have an enormous impact in this tiny rural town.

Over lunch, Senator Tester and I talked about these projects, as well as the Grand Union Hotel in nearby Fort Benton – originally constructed in 1882, it was reopened as a boutique hotel and painstakingly restored thanks to a Business and Industry Loan Guarantee. They also received assistance from our partner in the area, Bear Paw Development. Bear Paw has a long history with our Rural Development office in Montana, and the fruits of our combined labor are numerous across their service area. Both Senator Tester and I understand that the partnership developed between economic development organizations like Bear Paw and federal agencies like USDA Rural Development are the key to a brighter future for our rural and frontier communities.

Another example of the fruits of such partnership is the successful work of the Montana Cooperative Development Center (MCDC) in Great Falls. As I enjoyed a yellow carrot and a slice of organic patty pan squash, I learned about a community supported agriculture cooperative funded by USDA Rural Development and MCDC and how they provide fresh local produce as well as educate local kids on organic farming and gardening. Our partner in Southwestern Montana, Ravalli County Economic Development Authority has been a steadfast partner alongside MCDC and USDA Rural Development to expand the opportunities for cooperatives and other rural small businesses in the region.  

Whether it's the new wastewater system for the town of Choteau (and their very successful high school basketball team!), or the Armed to Farm veteran's agriculture program managed by the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) in Butte, time and time again we see our successes amplified and strengthened by partnerships.

With the support of Senator Tester, as well as the rest of Montana's Congressional delegation in Senator Daines and Congressman Zinke, paired with the footwork from our economic development partners like Bear Paw, MCDC, Ravalli County EDA, NCAT, and Sweetgrass Development, Rural Development in Montana has been transformative for our customers. That's the fundamental basis by which we are able to see success in our programs, these public and private partnerships. I'm thankful for the leadership shown by our Rural Development staff and know we'll be able to continue to leverage these partnerships to the betterment of the communities we serve.

Category/Topic: Rural