County meeting explores possible economic opportunities

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What would help boost Lake County’s economy?

Investment in infrastructure, housing, manufacturing jobs and, perhaps most significantly, a new brewery were among the main suggestions offered last week at the county’s annual community assessment meeting.

“The great thing about Lake County is that people here get things done,” Gypsy Ray, executive director of the Lake County Community Development Corporation told the audience of local government and business leaders.

Ray noted several businesses that have recently benefited from the many state and federal grants available.

The $105,000 Workforce Training Grant awarded last month to the Jore Corporation is a prime example, she said. The funding will go toward the creation of 21 new jobs at the drill bit company’s Ronan manufacturing plant.

“That might doesn’t seem like much,” Ray said. “But it’s a big deal in Lake County.”

Ray added that Polson-based Tipu’s Chai Tea also received a grant recently to boost marketing efforts.

“Both projects impact Lake County in a sense, and bring more jobs,” she said.

Fostering community-based businesses was a priority for many at the meeting, particularly when it came to projects within the city of Ronan.

One popular proposal was starting a brewery at the community development corporation’s food enterprise center.

Ray said that organizers are looking different cooperative ownership models, including a partnership with the Flathead Valley Community College’s Brewing Science Program.

“When you think about what’s missing in Ronan, we need interactive things,” she said. “It used to be coffee shops, now it’s breweries.”

Commissioner Bill Barron said that finding funding for sewer and street projects would also help Ronan’s revitalization efforts.

“I think Ronan has a bright future,” he said.

Several low-income housing projects also represent employment opportunities.

Ray noted that the Polson Landing development could create local construction jobs, while Jeff Jordan of the Kalispell-based Community Action Partnership of Northwest Montana described a program that uses state grant money to fund home improvement projects for senior citizens.

County officials welcomed the job creation, but cautioned against the tax breaks associated with such projects.

Barron said the incentives designed to spur the development of Polson Landing also exempt the property from taxes for the next 45 years.

“We don’t get any taxes,” he said. “But don’t you think those people that are going to live there will use our resources?”

Lake County Attorney Walter Congdon also noted that homeowners in other parts of the state have manipulated home renovation programs by using grant money to make improvements and then sell the property without paying capital gains taxes.

“You’re creating the problem you’re trying to solve,” Congdon said. “Nobody saw it coming.”

Ultimately, Congdon said that economic development efforts should take into account existing businesses.

“We need to take care of what we have,” he said. “Don’t try a new idea that will put someone out of business.”

Barron encouraged entrepreneurs to contact the community development center with ideas.

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