With development interest growing and infrastructure lacking, Missoula County is moving closer to creating a new economic development district near the Wye west of Missoula.
The new district would enable the county to reinvest in public infrastructure through the use of tax increment financing, drawing new businesses and industries to the area.
“Targeted economic development promotes economic development to improve employment and expand the tax base,” said Janet Cornish, a development consultant. “Targeted economic development is generally defined as an investment in public infrastructure to encourage value added economic development.”
Commissioners adopted a resolution declaring an infrastructure deficiency on several hundred acres south of the Interstate 90 interchange at the Wye in August. Last week, the county adopted a preliminary ordinance creating the district and expects to close out the process by the end of the year.
The new district would be the county’s first since a similar district was established years ago at the Missoula Development Park near the airport, followed in 2014 by a targeted district at the Bonner West Log Yard.
Both projects have attracted several dozen new businesses, including light industrial and value added manufacturing.
Joe Easton, representing Jackson Contractor Group and Double Haul LLC, supports the goals of the the district and the reasons for establishing it. He urged the county to be clear in detailing how TIF funding will be deployed in the area.
“A developer’s largest risk are the unknowns of executing a plan or potential use,” Easton said. “As you begin to execute the plan, those kinds of goals are important.”
To create the district, the county reviewed the area for any infrastructure deficiencies that serve as an obstacle for economic development. The area met nearly all the criteria and was deemed deficient in August.
Currently, many of the roads in the area are unpaved and pedestrian access is poor. Drainage is an issue and broadband access is spotty, as is the area’s water supply.
“Water deficiency is a major hurdle for any kind of development out here,” said Mark Bellon, president of Territorial Landworks. “We’re really struggling just providing potable domestic water. Fire flow protection becomes very challenging. The coordination of the development of a water system and really bolstering the fire flows out here would be great.”
Development interest is already high in Missoula, and real estate officials have said that industrial space is lacking. The lack of designated industrial space has emerged as a potential challenge to economic growth and job creation, officials have said.
Dori Brownlow, director of development for the county, said she’s talking with the city about holding off on annexation if the area is connected to city services.
“If in the future the city determines it wants to annex the district, there’s been discussion of there being a period of time between the sun setting on the district and that happening by the city,” Brownlow said. “We’ll be meeting next week to come up with the terms of the annexation scheduled.”