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Tourism, encouraging business innovation, housing and coordinating health care were among the top priorities selected during a recent Economic Recovery meeting hosted by Headwaters Headwaters Resource Conservation and Development Area Inc.

The series of meetings, held Dec. 1 in Jefferson County and followed by the same in Silver Bow, Beaverhead, Granite, Madison, Anaconda-Deer Lodge and Powell counties, are designed to provide input for an addendum to the 2017 Southwestern Montana Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy. The addendum, to be completed next year, is designed to assess and mitigate the economic impact of COVID-19.

Jefferson County residents are now invited to comment on the strategy on Jan. 27 at 1 p.m. Due to the pandemic, the meetings will be virtual and those wanting to participate can sign-up in advance at bit.ly/hwedajan

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, according to Joe Willauer, Headwaters executive director. 

In 2017, the top priority in Jefferson County was redeveloping the former Montana Development Center campus, which remains an ongoing concern. 

This year, the lack of events, such as rodeos and other large venues, has been “awful,” said Wilhauer during the Dec. 1 meeting held via Zoom. 

Tom Harrington, project coordinator for the Jefferson Local Development Corporation, said that one aspect of the ongoing pandemic alone is “really hurting businesses.” 

JLDC Executive Director Alison Richardson said that in talking to businesses and restaurants, it’s the summer season that keeps them going for the rest of the year. 

The Whitehall Chamber of Commerce tried to help by promoting take-out night for restaurants, but without the traffic coming in from the interstate, it’s been hard, said Richardson. 

Julie Jaksha, Headwaters regional director, said many people are simply afraid to go in a small business due to COVID-19.

Also discussed at the meeting was the impact of remote workers moving to Montana and its impact on an already tight housing market. 

Boulder City Council President Drew Dawson suggested that the addendum look at helping businesses innovate in a COVID and post-COVID environment — such as enhancing worker digital skills. 

“Doing business as usual won’t always work,” he said.

Dawson was also interested in having a coordinated healthcare approach be added as a priority, to include preventive medicine, emergency services and healthcare delivery. 

Emergency services continue to be sporadic and is a barrier to economic development, said Dawson. 

Once the meetings are completed in each county, a comprehensive list of projects will be developed for the CEDS and an addendum will be drafted. 

The draft will be presented to the public in January, with the opportunity to comment, followed by its finalization. 

The final draft will be available to the public by the end of February. 

For more information, contact Kelly Sullivan at ksullivan@headwatersrcd.org

 

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