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The federal Economic Development Administration (EDA) took the occasion of the 30th Anniversary Celebration of the Big Sky Economic Development Authority (BSEDA) to announce that the agency has given a recommendation for approval of the grant for which BSEDA applied to help fund the acquisition of the former Montana National Bank Building for BSEDA’s future headquarters.

In making the announcement, Angela Martinez, Regional Director, US Department of Commerce, cautioned that there is still an approval process through which the grant must go, but hopefully it will be a late birthday present for BSEDA. BSEDA has served as Yellowstone County’s economic development authority since 1989, when Yellowstone County Commissioners created the agency by resolution.

Months ago, BSEDA made application for a $2 million grant from EDA. Approval could mean receiving all of the $2 million request or only a part of it. BSEDA officials said previously that if they were to receive less than $1 million they would probably not be able to proceed with the purchase and necessary remodeling of their proposed new headquarters in downtown Billings.

The headquarters will lease office space under BSEDA’s entrepreneur program, Rock 31, which is the newest of seven programs that function under its umbrella. In 2002, a sister non-profit organization, Big Sky Economic Development Corporation, (EDC) was formed, which draws upon private sector memberships to augment the publically funded organization. BSEDA is supported in part by a taxpayer mill levy.

BSEDA will receive $1.5 million from the mill levy in FY2019-20, which is used to leverage other funding in grants and administration fees at a 3 to 1 ratio, according to the agency’s financial statements.

EDC generates about a half million dollars in private donations and from membership investor support. It also generates about $800,000 in loan fees and interest income through loans made to businesses by its finance division, Big Sky Finance.

Among the other economic development programs that function under the BSEDA umbrella are the Small Business Development Corporation, Montana PTAC, Billings Works, and the Veterans Business Outreach Center.

Are you born to build?

That was the question posed many times over by presenters throughout the celebration at MetraPark, which was attended by a couple hundred community leaders and business people on Thursday.

EDA/EDC Director Steve Arveschoug said that to build a thriving community requires a blue print and a set of plans. But, it must first start with a solid foundation. A solid foundation includes infrastructure, which includes some of the things that Billings has been focused upon such as the redevelopment of the airport, developing a turn-key industrial park through the Targeted Economic Development District, and the enhancement of the 32nd Avenue Corridor.

Then comes issues such as “quality of space,” public safety, and higher education investment, which are necessary to attract a workforce. All of those are issues are at the forefront of numerous efforts underway in Billings, including the addition of new buildings on each of the two college campuses in Billings and the completion of the bike trail network.

Keynote speaker, Todd Johnson of Global Channel for Gallup, pointed out that people who build things – entrepreneurs – are the only ones who create jobs, and jobs are the number one concern of most people in the world, according to their surveys.

Human capital is the next frontier, said Johnson.

Johnson said, “We want to change the national dialogue from asking ‘What do you do?’ to “What do you build?’”

He went on to point out that company founders are not always great managers.

People who are good at building a business, creating jobs and bringing new ideas to market are called “freaks” – in a good way. Freaks are rare and hard to identify, said Johnson. They are not necessarily straight A students, and being the nonconformists they often are, they are most often found in the detention room.

The country needs 150,000 “game changing freaks” to keep the US in the lead, economically. These people and what they do will happen in 200 cities in the nation.  “Real economic vitality will happen at the city level,” said Johnson.

Johnson underscored the importance of immigration to the country in the future its future growth, by pointing out that half of the people who head Fortune 500 companies, were not born in the US.