By James Grunke

While our nation wrestles with its vision of the future, the Missoula Economic Partnership is clear about where we want to go and what it will take to get there.

We want Missoula and Missoula County to be recognized as the best places to live and do business in the Northwest. And we intend to bring that vision to reality through the attraction and growth of primary businesses.

Our aim is high. Our resolve is deep. Our plan is rock solid.

This past month, MEP embarked upon our new five-year plan, a work order if you will, shaped by our Board of Directors over the past 12 months. It sets priorities, focuses our energy and resources, and ensures that we’re working toward common goals.

But this is not just the Missoula Economic Partnership’s economic development strategy. This is Missoula’s economic development strategy, and we need the community to understand these goals and to hold us accountable. This is our shared future.

So what will it take to make our community the best in the Northwest?

Over the next five years, we intend to foster the creation of 3,000 new jobs in and around Missoula – jobs that pay at or above the average county wage. And we’ll facilitate $300 million in new capital investment.

MEP’s board members identified eight industry clusters as targets for business retention and expansion, business attraction, and workforce strategy. The first three are priority areas among the eight:

• Information technology and data.

• Biotech and life sciences.

• Advanced manufacturing.

• Professional services.

• Business support services/back office.

• Creative industries.

• Warehousing/distribution.

• Finance and insurance.

That doesn’t mean we’ll ignore other industries. In fact, we always seize opportunities in other industries as they arise. But it’s essential to capitalize on our key community assets, and our priority industries relate directly to the resources those assets provide.

Community assets such as the presence of a regional medical center, fiber infrastructure and the abundance of foreign trade facilitate growth in our target industries. The University of Montana is integral to our target industry strategy, and MEP works closely with UM to support innovation, entrepreneurship and workforce development.

Sound a big lofty? It is, but we also have a detailed to-do list – selected strategic initiatives that address barriers to business development and workforce attraction by augmenting incentives for economic development, air service, the availability of shovel-ready building sites, and a diversity of housing options.

We’ve divided our efforts at job growth into two pieces.

First, we intend to foster 1,800 new jobs through business retention and growth. We’ll develop a target list of Missoula-area companies to visit each year, and develop a comprehensive interview questionnaire to address those companies’ challenges, opportunities and needed support. Then will come site visits and confidential visit reports, with action plans and follow-up visits.

Part two will be the attraction of new businesses and an associated 1,200 jobs. MEP plans to secure a lead generation firm to produce new business leads, then develop a program that turns leads into active prospects. We’ll develop action plans for each new potential business, and make our case for Missoula.

Throughout our work over the next five years, MEP will keep our focus squarely on fostering an entrepreneurial and business-friendly climate. As we recruit new businesses, we’ll focus on priority sectors that create high-paying jobs and “best-fit” companies. And, importantly, we’ll cultivate and attract a skilled workforce by connecting underemployed workers with high-growth job opportunities – and connecting businesses with learning institutions and training programs.

Ours is a daunting set of goals, values and strategic initiatives, and the next five years will surely fly by. But we’re invigorated by the challenges and opportunities. Now we need your help: Get involved in shaping Missoula’s future. Add your voice to the discussion. Hold us accountable for results. Let’s make our community truly the best place to live and work in all the Northwest.

James Grunke is president and CEO of the Missoula Economic Partnership.