GFDA has an ongoing strategic planning process that helps our Board prioritize the use of our resources to maximize our mission impact. As part of our regional economic development strategy, we undertake projects designed to pursue economic opportunities for our region, address weaknesses, and make our market more competitive to attract investment and talent. These projects sometimes are limited in time and sometimes grow into part of our long-term community economic development work.
One of our newest projects is to attract talent to the Great Falls trade area to help employers fill skilled positions and to grow our population base. We kicked this project off in January 2020 with the hiring of a Talent Attraction Director and publishing a digital relocation magazine in partnership with Livability Media. Contact Soren Chargois to help with this project, Soren@GrowGreatFalls.org.
The diverse array of digital and information technology industries includes some of the fastest growing in the world. We will soon be launching an assessment of the companies and talent we have in our region to identify opportunities to expand some of these industries to diversify our economy and support the creation of higher wage jobs. Contact Jolene Schalper to get involved in this effort, JSChalper@GrowGreatFalls.org.
When we started this project, market studies had indicated our rental vacancy rate was less than 2%. We set an initial goal of getting 500 new quality apartments constructed and put on the market at a range of price points. Ince we achieved this and reassessed the market, we set a goal of another 500 units. As we make progress on this, we are beginning efforts to attract developers to also construct home ownership opportunities in the missing middle of our market priced from $150,000-275,000.
Urban River Corridor
This was one of the first projects we started back in 2003 when GFDA was formed. It began with a master plan of what is now the 90-acre West Bank Urban Renewal Area. Our riverfront revitalization efforts have included brownfield assessment and redevelopment, mixed use commercial development and park improvements. Now we have expended the effort to encourage riverfront housing and more businesses that utilize the Missouri River’s recreation, entertainment and visual appeal.
Welding Training Center
When we attracted ADF International to construct a 100-acre specialty steel fabrication complex in Great Falls, it became clear that the company’s growth, and that of other firms in the region, would depend on expanding the pipeline of highly skilled welders. We partnered with these companies and Great Falls College MSU to create the nation’s first dual certified U.S./Canadian welding training and education center located at the College. Great Falls Public Schools joined the partnership to offer dual credit to high school juniors and seniors. Every spring, a group of high school students graduate with a free associates degree from the college a week before they receive their high school diploma and are highly sought after by area businesses.
Though Great Falls was founded as a manufacturing powerhouse, quite literally, the economy never recovered its manufacturing prominence after the Anaconda Smelter closed in 1980. By 2010, manufacturing had dropped to 2% of the metro area’s employment base. GFDA started an effort to build on the region’s assets to grow its manufacturing base, focusing on energy-support and food/ag/bio processing. This effort has produced many successes including business startups, expansions and attractions.
Great Falls Branding
Not too long ago, business development and tourism marketing efforts in Great Falls suffered from an array of competing and conflicting marketing efforts, strategies and messaging. GFDA played a key role in bringing together the various groups and developing a unified marketing brand. We had some false starts along the way, but now benefit from a coordinated marketing strategy. Early efforts, though they failed to gain support, helped lay the sees for today’s Great Falls Tourism Alliance.
Rail Industrial Park
For over two decades Great Falls was at a competitive disadvantage because it did not have shovel ready rail-served industrial parks. GFDA made this a high priority from day one. It took over 12 years to put together the land, design, approvals and funds to create what today is the Great Falls AgriTech Park, a certified BNSF Premier Park.
When GFDA was formed, once dynamic Great Falls downtown revitalization efforts had fallen on hard times. GFDA worked with the Business Improvement District, Downtown Great Falls Association, NeighborWorks Great Falls, the City of Great Falls and many community supporters to pump new life into downtown redevelopment. These efforts led to the creation of the Downtown Development Partnership, adoption of a downtown master plan, and creation of a downtown urban renewal district, all of which have helped spur dozens of downtown successes.