Southeastern Montana Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy

In 2017, Southeastern Montana Development Corporation (SEMDC) released the Southeastern Montana Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) after consultation with hundreds of residents throughout the area to address common issues, including repairing infrastructure, increasing broadband capacity to meet local needs, encouraging resilient energy development, and foster diverse, local businesses. Through the CEDS, SEMDC works to create a strong coalition of communities and businesses to facilitate the development of a resilient infrastructure, while “maintaining a traditional, rural, high quality lifestyle” in the four Counties of Custer, Powder River, Rosebud and Treasure, and within the communities of Ashland, Broadus, Colstrip, Forsyth, Hysham, Miles City, and Lame Deer and the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation in Rosebud County, Montana. Among the many projects and initiatives contained within the CEDS, those that are most applicable to developing economic resilience emphasize Climate and Renewable Energy Development; combating inequality and unemployment; and establishing an Economic Resilience Strategy. To address inequality and unemployment within the region, SEMDC proposes several programs for under-represented, vulnerable communities and residents. This involves the support of workforce development programs in communities that focus primarily on the disadvantaged, as well as scholarship programs that train these individuals on green energy technologies. 

Climate and Renewable Energy Development

The planning document stresses that Southern Montana has the potential to incorporate significantly more renewable and sustainable energy production. In doing so, Montana can ensure their energy independence, help to increase economic diversity, and lower CO2 emissions, which will ultimately support environmental resilience. 

There are several specific projects the Strategy describes that have the potential to be implemented, or those that have already been deemed successful and have the capacity to expand. In terms of existing programs, there have been projects on Native American Reservations that have been met with community support. Under Title XXVI, funding is provided to American Indian Tribes to develop renewable energy. In the past, this program has been relatively successful, and SEDMC emphasizes that this funding can provide a good opportunity “for assessing the technical and economic feasibility of renewable energy on Indian lands, and also for demonstrating DOE-developed technologies in real-life settings.”

The document also highlights the redevelopment of brownfields throughout Southeastern Montana as a way to mitigate environmental effects and open up potential future land use. While  finding the funding necessary for redevelopment is considered a challenge, regional partnerships are in the process of being made, which can support initial assessment funding. Additionally, as a part of creating this type of partnership, participants can also create a regional loan fund that will help with other mitigation projects.

Social Equity Issues

There are several disparities noted regarding income and poverty levels across the Southeastern Montana region. Unemployment rates within the region are higher than similarly situated areas. Also, agricultural industries make up a large portion of economy in the area, and as a result, climate events such as forest fires, decreased precipitation, and increased temperatures can have disastrous effects on already vulnerable populations.

The CEDS report offers a variety of strategies for fighting inequality in the region and protecting vulnerable populations. One suggested initiative focuses on increasing mental health and addiction services, to protect the mental well-being of the unemployed and disadvantaged in the region. The strategy stating that “the level of mental and emotional health and support greatly affect the economic development in a community as well as the area’s ability to believe in and support itself.”

The CEDS document also lists more general projects that would help to address unemployment in the region. One focus is promoting and supporting workforce development within the area through programs such as Leadership Montana, REAL Montana, Indianpreneur. Additionally, continuing to support and encourage the expansion of the Energy Open Scholarship Program – a program which showcases the economic benefits of responsible, green energy development – can help workforce members learn clean energy job skills and increase the availability of potential employees.

Economic Resilience

The CEDS report also includes the region’s Disaster/Economic Recovery and Resiliency Strategy that contributes directly toward economic resilience in the region. In Southeastern Montana, this Strategy facilitates the creation of a resilient economy because it: (1) outlines potential risks associated with climate events; (2) analyzes how these events may impact residents in the area; and (3) most importantly, acts as a guide for policymakers and business owners looking to implement planning processes that will help mitigate the fallout of a disaster event.

Disaster management and recovery processes are usually viewed as cyclical, with overlapping steps - with four stages planned for the Economic Resilience Strategy:

  1. pre-disaster mitigation and emergency management preparedness
  2. emergency response
  3. short-term recovery
  4. long-term recovery and redevelopment

Throughout the recovery process, the Strategy highlights the fact that there are actually opportunities that redevelopers can take advantage of that will help establish economic resilience within the community. For example, contractors can give locals first preference regarding any temporary recovery construction work, which will prevent people from moving away from the area. Buildings damaged during the disaster event can be retrofitted with energy efficient, resilient power sources and materials, which may help them withstand a similar event in the future. Local policies can encourage business diversity through incentive programs in redevelopment areas, which can encourage industries to move into the area that are less vulnerable to disaster impacts.

SEMDC has stated that regardless of what program is implemented, the Corporation will be a resource to business owners, city planners, and all those involved in economic resilience planning through its technical expertise, grant writing assistance, funding knowledge, and collaborative connections within the public and private sector.

 

Publication Date: June 2017

Related Organizations:

  • Southeastern Montana Development Corporation

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