With industrial land rare, Missoula County eyes Wye for guided economic development

With industrial space growing rare in Missoula and the airport’s development park nearly full, Missoula County has turned its focus west, eyeing the Wye as the next industrial park.

For now, however, creating a Targeted Economic Development District in the area to spur that buildout remains little more than talk, though there could be firmer plans later this year.

“It’s been presented to you as a possibility, creating that district at the intersection of Interstate 90 and Highway 93,” said consultant Janet Cornish. “But there might need to be a more general policy discussion on your part before you proceed as a commission with those steps.”

Cornish urged the county to answer a number of questions before moving forward. Among them, is the Wye an appropriate location for value-added development under state law?

She also asked the county to consider whether creating the district conforms with the county’s current growth policy and zoning regulations, among other issues.

“It would be nice to know if there are secondary, value-added projects you’re aware of, and what might be the priorities for addressing industrial infrastructure deficits in that area,” said Cornish. “I think it’s a prudent thing to consider if it’s something you feel you want to do.”

The county’s lack of designated industrial space has emerged as a potential challenge to economic growth and job creation. While space remains at the Bonner West Log Yard, the Bonner mill site and Missoula Development Park are both full.

Missoula International Airport is also considering plans to open a portion of its property for light-industrial and manufacturing companies. That plan, however, could be contingent upon the county’s success in landing a hefty federal grant to lay the infrastructure needed to access and serve the property.

Creating a Targeted Economic Development District at the Wye, which is already developed in a haphazard way, could bring its own benefits, Cornish said.

“By virtue of creating the district, you’re making it easier for someone to locate there,” she said. “You have that additional ability, through the creation of the district, to decide how you want your community to grow. They might go into business at a place that doesn’t share your vision for the community.”

Commissioners are expected to discuss the issue further in the coming weeks. As it stands, Commissioner Jean Curtiss said, a number of businesses have expressed interest in the Wye, including two home-manufacturing companies.

“I think there’s quite a few (businesses),” Curtiss said of the interest. “Some of these guys already have people lined up that want a building to suit to do some of these businesses.”