Re-energized Port Authority board looks ahead

Doreen Heintz

Facilitator Dave Phillips records some of the ideas provided by Fergus County Port Authority members during the group’s annual meeting Monday.                              Photo by Doreen Heintz

The Port Authority of Fergus County is back in business. After a fairly quiet past couple of years, the Port Authority held its annual meeting on Monday afternoon. By the time the meeting was over, the committee, formed several years ago to help with economic development in Central Montana, had a new direction.
The public annual meeting, called by the newly organized Port Authority board, was facilitated masterfully by Dave Phillips. A number of key stakeholders from throughout Fergus County were at the meeting to provide input. Kathy Bailey represented the Snowy Mountain Development Corporation, while Holly Phelps represented the City of Lewistown.
Phillips asked the assembled group to first identify “who are the who” in Fergus County. The purpose of answering “who are the who” was to list all the identities in Fergus County the Port Authority could partner with to help with economic development in the county.
A long list was developed, ranging from the Lewistown Chamber of Commerce and manufacturers around the area to the newly formed Arts and Entertainment District. Entities were then placed into reasonable groupings. For example, the local government category could include the city and county governments, Tax Increment Financing District, Tourism Business Improvement District and the Airport Board.
The reasoning behind the groupings was to identify which entities members of the Port Authority could work with to develop partnerships for advancing economic development. The thinking was each Port Authority board member would work with a certain group.
There was a consensus that the Port Authority could not wait for the entities to come to them, but rather the Port Authority needs to reach out.

New short- and long-term goals
After a short break, the group came back together to discuss the goals of the Port Authority.
“It is critical that we set some short-term goals,” said Dave Byerly, a member of the Port Authority.
Bailey urged the group to look at symbiotic relationships in which there is a win-win for the Port Authority and also for each entity. After each person was given the chance to suggest a short-term goal for the Port Authority, Phillips merged some of the suggestions together, creating a total of six short-term goals. Everyone at the meeting was given the chance to vote on the three most important goals he/she thought the Port Authority should work on over the next year.
The top three identified short-term goals include:
• Hire a part-time employee who would be the go-to-person for any individual or business thinking about relocating to Lewistown. The biggest stumbling block for this goal is the money to pay for the position, but the group thought it was important there is an individual who can be contacted by phone or in person by interested parties.
• Develop outreach to attract a major business to the Lewistown area. Suggestions included developing a website, developing a presence on social media, making a small brochure to give to people about the Port Authority, and to actually go to some businesses from out of the area and encourage them to relocate to Lewistown.
• Partnering with the Airport Board to look at Phase One of a business park located at the airport.
Other suggestions include working with the SMDC to develop housing on the Berg property, working with the downtown association to help bring businesses to open store fronts and developing housing in several of the upper stories of buildings in the downtown area.
Bret Carpenter of the Port Authority Board ended the two plus-hour meeting by thanking everyone for coming and providing input. He added he thought the meeting was very successful and now the Port Authority Board needed to look at everything that was discussed and come up with their goals for the coming 12 months.
The next meeting of the Port Authority Board is Wednesday, Dec. 14 at 8 a.m. in the conference room at Stockman Bank. The meeting is open to the public, and the public is encouraged to attend all meetings of the Port Authority to become involved with economic development in Fergus County.



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