Community Capacity. Every town in eastern Montana is grappling with a rapidly changing present, decisions made in the past, and the impending future as new people and businesses, enter into, or are invited into, the region. Fallon County has one of the most interesting models in the region to corral growth issues. Most larger towns have an enconomic development council that is a non-profit and generally receives mills for the service it provides. Fallon County, however has two bodies responsible for the eonomic growth of the area. One is the Southeast Montana Area Revitalization Team, known locally as S.M.A.R.T. S.M.A.R.T is a private non-profit and the other entity, which contracts to SMART, is the Eastern Montana Economic Development Authority, formerly known as the Port Authority. Despite the broad name, the ecnomic development authority is unique to Fallon County.
Brandon Schmidt is a youthful, educated loan officer at a financial institution in Fallon County. Earlier this year he was seated as president of the economic development authority. He clarified the Fallon County model of dual agencies, explaining that the economic development authority is, by its charter, a county board. The board leverages mills to create fill economic need for the commmunity that generate a profit for the coffers. SMART is a non-profit that historically has also served Carter County and because of its non-profit status they can serve a project generated by the economic development authority but can not generate a profit. The economic development authority, however does contract to SMART for administrative services.
Boasting the oldest oil field in the state, Fallon County has the longest track record of successfully stabilizing their community through boom and bust periods, so the tandem agency approach while unique to Fallon County, makes it a model for consideration by communities new to energy impacts.
The two have worked together most recently to develop a new market rate apartment complex to increase housing stock in Fallon County. That project completed, Schmidt says the Authority has noted the continued housing shortage as well as other related issues and see a need for a collective community plan in order to select their next project.
Their next step is to hold a Vision Dinner to creat a cohesiveness between all the stakeholders in the Baker and Fallon County area. Schmidt said the group has invted community leaders, organizations, churches, and the public as a whole to come to the table to examine community capacity, create a vision for the short and long-term stability of the community, and start to shape the direction the Authority will take to keep the area vital. Noting the Authority’s track record, Schmidt said “The success of past events have given us the groundwork to take the next step in planning for a prosperous community. By attending this event you will play an integral role in drawing the blueprints for our future.”
Stakeholders including community leaders, organizations, churches, businesses with an interest in Fallon County and public the public are encouraged to join decision makers on various boards, councils and commissions working in local government to help draw up blueprints for our future for Fallon County’s economic future at a free dinner on September 1.
To register for the dinner, contact SMART director Mona Madler at 406-778-2020.