Montana’s First Multi-County Regional Port Authority Established in Lewistown
LEWISTOWN, MT, Sept. 21, 2022–Snowy Mountain Development Corporation (SMDC) announces the creation of the six-county Snowy Mountain Development Regional Port Authority (SMDA), a quasi-governmental entity established under Montana State law.
“A local port authority is not a new economic development tool in Montana; however, a multi-county regional port authority has never been tried until now,” said Sara Hudson, SMDA’s first Executive Director.
“This is likely due to the challenges of unifying and coordinating multiple county interests,” said Hudson. “Something of this magnitude often breaks down in the planning stage. Big plans present big problems,” Hudson added.
Over the last month, the County Commissions of Fergus, Petroleum, Musselshell, Golden Valley, Wheatland, and Judith Basin each adopted resolutions to participate in the regional authority to promote, stimulate, develop, and advance the general welfare, commerce, economic development, and prosperity in Central Montana.
“These are the same six counties that SMDC has served for more than 20 years—without conflicts among our members,” said Hudson, who also serves as SMDC’s Executive Director. “I have practiced both urban and rural economic development,” said Hudson, “and I can tell you from experience that partnership is survival in rural counties. This is a modern way of applying a traditional tool that other rural governments may seek to replicate.”
Despite SMDC’s resolutions with the six-county commissions designating SMDC as their local government economic development arm, SMDC’s 501(c)(3) status has prevented it from securing Federal and State funds designated for local governments. “Rural governments cannot afford to create, staff, and fund their own economic development departments,” said Ross Butcher, SMDA Board Chair and Fergus County Commissioner. “We must partner to spread the costs to develop,” said Paul McKenna, SMDA Vice Chair and Petroleum County Commissioner. We are cash-strapped and tax-fatigued,” said Hudson. “Fatigued enough to experiment,” added Dean Blomquist, SMDA Secretary/Treasurer and Golden Valley County Commissioner.
“But it is a calculated risk,” added Cody McDonald, SMDA Board Member and Judith Basin County Commissioner. Over the last 20 years, SMDC’s Board and staff have grown the organization’s assets to nearly $8 million; secured technical staff in development and redevelopment, government contracting, and small business lending. “The combined impact of these services has contributed more than $600 million to Central Montana’s economy,” said Bob Pancratz, SMDA Board Member and Musselshell County Commissioner. “We are standing on the shoulders of the giants who established and grew SMDC—and leveraging that success for SMDA,” said Jeff Sell, SMDA Board Member and Wheatland County Commissioner.
The partnership is timely given mounting inflation and housing, childcare and workforce crises in all six counties. The smallest sliver of the State’s more-than-a-billion-dollar surplus could help us create and retain rural jobs; establish and grow rural businesses; link low-cost capital to high-cost rural development; and summon rural Montanans back home.
“But the stark reality,” said Hudson, “is that those billions-of-dollars of surplus are met with trillions-of-dollars of need. So, I don’t envy the hard choices our representatives will make in the next Legislative Session. But it won’t keep us from asking for a few bucks to be thrown our way too.”
SMDA and SMDC will be marketed together as “Snowy Mountain Development—a public-private partnership of government and industry organized to build community and economic capital in Central Montana.”