GFDA strategic planning meeting Oct. 12

The Great Falls Development Authority is developing a new regional economic development strategy.

The agency is hosting another community meeting to gather public input about the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of the Great Falls economy.

The meeting is 7-8:30 p.m. Oct. 12 in the Gibson Room at the Civic Center.

It’s the next in a series of community meetings and smaller groups of stakeholders that have been held the last month.

Jolene Schalper said that Great Falls has not done a regional strategic plan in at least the last 20 years and so the GFDA board got the resources to go through such a planning process.

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She said that once they’ve gathered input from the various groups, the consultant will synthesize that down to the salient points to emphasize community goals for a broader strategic plan that GFDA, as well as other community entities, will be able to break into actionable pieces.

Schalper said that GFDA serves a 13 county region, but that the process was seeming to focus on the City of Great Falls and Cascade County early on.

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The consultants are asking participants questions through what’s called a SWOT analysis, looking at strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

About 25 people attended a session in mid-September at Great Falls College MSU.

Some participants said that Great Falls is viewed as the “stepchild” community in Montana and that it doesn’t get the same chain restaurants and stores as other cities is a problem.

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Others pointed out that the community is not capitalizing on its strengths to the fullest extent, such as agriculture, the river and outdoor activities.

Some suggested the community needs an attitude adjustment to help attract growth.

“I think we’re all real down on Great Falls. I don’t want to be Bozeman. I think we need to be proud of our community. We’re right there,” Katie Hanning, director of the Home Builders Association of Great Falls.

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Keith Ballantyne, an architect, said “you’re kind of convincing yourself of it if you’re constantly putting yourself down.”

He said he’s noticed an undercurrent of anxiety around, making change difficult.

Peter Jennings, a downtown business owner, said that there’s an apathy in the community and the continued narrative of being a stepchild “dampens the spirit.”