Business, education interaction launched in Billings

Billings’ business and education communities moved a step closer to meeting each others’ needs
Wednesday with the launch of the Greater Yellowstone Business and Education Council.
The group aims to help employers meet their needs for a quality workforce by matching businesses with
educational institutions that can teach those skills.

Of The Gazette Staff

The Billings group will be modeled after the Flathead Business and Education Council. The Flathead
council, formed in 1998, has developed programs to give students and business leaders an opportunity to
meet by taking CEOs into high school classrooms and students into businesses.
Bob Nystuen, who presented some of the Flathead council’s success stories, said the group doesn’t take
credit for connecting the schools and businesses, but rather creating the web that brought them together.
Nystuen is senior vice president for sales and marketing of Glacier Bank.

Kathy Hughes, associate dean of continuing education at Flathead Valley Community College, said the
Flathead group learned early on that people wanted action. Economic development, in terms of a better trained
workforce, has been an offshoot of the council she said.
In the next six months, council members plan to define the organization’s expectations and assess
businesses’ needs and resources that are available. Members will also spread the message throughout the
Greater Yellowstone area and the state that the council has been established and that it wants to help make
more connections. In the next year, the council intends to look for funding and undertake a Workforce 2020
project, a national Chamber of Commerce program that catalogs and provides resources about the workforce
for employers.
Gazette Publisher Michael Gulledge has agreed to serve as council chairman. A project of "Celebrate
Billings," the council’s next meeting is in August. The group will meet each quarter, although members will work
between meetings to create new programs and refine existing resources.
Woody Jensen, director of adult education for School District 2, said he thinks the group’s goals are
attainable. Jensen was impressed with the more than 30 business and education leaders who attended the
"They have the power and influence to make changes for economic development," Jensen said. "There is
definitely a perceived need by all the parties to include the education community in the business community."
Wednesday’s meeting included a local business/education panel discussion moderated by Gulledge. The
following is an overview of each panel member’s thoughts on the council:
School District 2 Superintend Jo Swain said she likes the "deliberateness" of the council. The district has
connections with corporations, Swain said, but the council would create a defined process for more of those
connections to be created. The council would also give the district an opportunity to "showcase" its positive
programs and talented students, Swain said.
David Irion, executive director of the St. Vincent Healthcare Foundation, said a key issue is that the coalition
would create communication. Irion said the council needs to include economic development in its mission and
consider the "economic driver" of education and the Montana experience, such as the state’s national parks.
Chancellor of Montana State University-Billings Ron Sexton said the council needs to help overcome the
"no jobs in Montana myth." Although there is a "pragmatic, real part" of that myth, Sexton said the council could
help encourage students to stay in Montana. Another part of the council’s purpose should be to keep good high
school students in Montana rather than being recruited to out-of-state, possibly more prestigious, colleges, he
County Commissioner Jim Reno said everyone in the council is an equal and they need to listen to each
other and act on what they hear. He pointed to the successful house-building project that is sponsored by the
Career Center.
"Home builders like it," Reno said. "They create new skilled craftsmen. What a pool to hire from."
Victoria Cech, director of grants at Rocky Mountain College, said the council could go a long way to "expand
and enrich" existing partnerships, such as Rocky’s new graduation requirement that has graduates getting real
world experience.

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