Aggressive promotion, business retention among Missoula partnership’s new goals

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James Grunke, president and CEO of Missoula Economic Partnership, unveils the organization’s goals for the next five years during a presentation held on Wednesday. (Photo by Martin Kidston)

By Martin Kidston/MISSOULA CURRENT

The Missoula Economic Partnership launched a new job-building strategy Wednesday and set a fundraising goal of $4.5 million to help retain existing businesses and get new startups off the ground.

The organization, founded in 2011 to improve the city’s economic health, is also working to establish a revenue guarantee to expand Missoula’s air service.

Dubbed “A Bolder Strategy,” the organization’s blueprint was unveiled Wednesday during its annual investor’s meeting. MEP is wrapping up its first iteration and has set new strategy goals for the next five years.

“Economic development is about building relationships,” said James Grunke, president and CEO of MEP. “Good things are happening and will continue to happen in our community.”

Since its launch, MEP has helped create more than 2,300 new jobs that contribute $115 million in new annual payroll, according to statistics presented Wednesday. The organization has also facilitated $104 million in capital investment and helped 17 companies relocate to Missoula.

Jeff Fee, president and CEO of Providence St. Patrick Hospital and MEP’s board chairman, said the organization will focus on marketing Missoula more aggressively and help develop a skilled workforce to fill new-industry jobs.

“Economic development is a long-term game,” Fee said. “While we’re in better economic shape than we were five years ago, it’s important that we stay disciplined and diligent in our efforts.”

While MEP will continue to work on business recruitment, it’s focus over the coming year will expand to other areas, including the retention and growth of companies already seated in Missoula.

Over the last five years, MEP said, it has visited with 200 established business looking for help expanding.

“Most of Missoula’s job growth and capital investment comes from companies that are already here,” Grunke said. “We’ll continue to work with local businesses to help them thrive and remain in Missoula.”

MEP also plans to ensure the city has a skilled workforce to fill those jobs, including those in new and innovative fields. Grunke said MEP will focus on targeted industries that, when clustered together, create spin-off opportunities.

“No single definition incorporates all the different strands of economic development,” said Grunke.

MEP highlighted several local startups at Wednesday’s banquette, including Agile Data Solutions, KettleHouse Brewing Co. and Coaster Pedicab.

Ben Morris, president of Coaster Pedicab, said he chose Missoula over other cities when looking to launch his product, due in part to the city’s business-friendly climate. He lauded MEP, First Security Bank and the Missoula Job Service for helping seal their decision.

“The workforce here has been amazing,” said Morris. “We’re getting really talented fabricators. We’ll have 15 employees working out on the site come summertime.”

MEP recalled its own startup five years ago when a group of local investors laid down $3.5 million to help improve the local economy. The organization’s network of investors has increased 25 percent since then and is now looking to raise $4.5 million in investment.

Bill Squires, an MEP board member and president of Blackfoot Telecommunications, said donors pledged $3.2 million during the quiet phase of MEP’s fundraising effort. The public phase was announced Wednesday with a $1.3 million goal.

“We have a very ambitious goal of raising $4.5 million,” said Squires. “As of today, we already have commitments over the next five years totaling just under $3.2 million, so we have a fantastic jump on that.”