By Martin Kidston

The economic development district assigned to three western Montana counties, including Missoula, has been folded into the Missoula Economic Partnership, where it will coordinate grants aimed at regional planning and job growth.

The Bitterroot Economic Development District was incorporated in 2002 and hired its first employee in 2006. Over the past 10 years, it has served as the federally designated economic arm of Missoula, Mineral and Ravalli counties.

Jenn Ewan, vice president of MEP, said BREDD's most recent employee, Kelly Yarns, left at the end of the last month. Nichole Rush will serve as the organization's new grants coordinator under the guidance of MEP.

“We discussed this with Missoula County and Yarns, and just because we work with BREDD so much, we thought it would be great having it in-house,” said Ewan. “It will be a very similar structure, (Rush) is just under the MEP roof.”

Over the past several years, BREDD has worked to renovate the MonTEC incubation center, launch a broadband study for the city of Missoula, and complete an economic development strategy.

It also has secured funding from the Big Sky Economic Development Trust Fund to assist a number of local businesses, including Consumer Direct, Synema Studios and Tru-Home Industries, among others.

“It's the most active organization in all of Montana in relation to the Big Sky Trust Fund program,” said James Grunke, president and CEO of MEP. “They just submitted four grants and got them approved at the end of June for some planning. We've always worked well together, so this is a better way to consolidate services.”

Operated under the Montana Office of Tourism and Business Development, the Big Sky Trust Fund provides state funding to promote stable economic growth in both project planning and job creation.

Rush will manage the grants under MEP – an arrangement Grunke described as a good fit.

“We're going to bring the BREDD function into our organization, which is grant writing for job creation in Missoula County,” Grunke said. “The board of both organizations felt like this made the most sense to have it housed jointly with us.”

Rush will be paid by MEP.

“There are admin fees that come along with the grants, and we'd make it as self sufficient as we can,” Grunke said. “We've always anticipated it would require some funding from MEP, but we've been providing some funding to BREDD for the last several years. It's going to be the next four to six weeks before we get a clearer image of what the picture looks like.”

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