Three years ago, international trade dominated national economic news and the U.S. was enjoying the lowest unemployment rate since the early 2000s.

But that was long before the world heard of COVID-19. 

Now, three years later, Headwaters Resource Conservation and Development Area Inc. is adding an addendum to its Southwestern Montana Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy to assess the impact that the pandemic has had on the region’s economy.

The CEDS is generally updated every 10 years, but Headwaters, aided by CARES Act funding, is moving forward with an addendum to the 2017 plan, which provides guidance to local decision makers and the state legislature on economic issues, said Joe Willauer, Headwaters executive director. 

The strategy serves a seven county area, to include Jefferson, Beaverhead, Madison, Granite, Powell, Anaconda and Deer Lodge counties, as well as the cities of Butte and Deer Lodge. 

The roadmap developed three years ago doesn’t apply to the economy today, said Willauer at a recent Zoom kick-off meeting. 

The addendum will look at where the region is performing well, and where there are gaps, he said.

One area that has been found to be weak in the wake of the pandemic is broadband, said Willauer. 

“It’s an area we know we need to improve on throughout our entire state,” said Willauer. 

Three years ago, Jefferson County had a long list of projects, programs and activities it planned to accomplish, to include redeveloping the former Montana Development Center campus in Boulder, putting water and sewer facilities throughout the county, overnight lodging facilities in Boulder and creating tourism infrastructure, among many other ideas. 

The public is asked to weigh in on the regional economic strategy in a series of meetings scheduled in December. Jefferson County residents can provide comments on Tuesday, Dec. 1, 1 p.m. via Zoom. Meeting information will be available later this month. 

Residents can also complete an online survey, which can be found at http://bit.ly/hwedasurvey.

Once the meetings are complete, Headwaters plans to complete a draft of the addendum, to include a comprehensive project list, and host a 30-day public comment period in January. A final draft is expected in February. 

Headwaters RC&D is a 501c(3) non-profit focused on improving the economic and social well-being of the Southwest Montana region through conservation, development and proper use of natural and human resources.

For more information, visit https://www.headwatersrcd.org/

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