This year, Governor Steve Bullock has decided to do things a bit differently when it comes to designing Montana's economic development plan. Instead of having a team of appointees and bureaucrats work on the plan in Helena, Bullock is sending out a group of business leaders to gather information from the public.

The program is called Main Street Montana, and it will be coming to Montana's five biggest cities to get the public's response. Today, June 4, Main Street Montana will meet in Missoula.

"The format of these roundtables is to gather information in a small group and to talk about the different opportunities and challenges to the state," said economic development team member and Washington Companies CEO Larry Simkins. "When we divide up into small groups the two questions are 'what are the strengths' and 'what are the challenges,' and then we follow up with surveys and evaluations as well."

Main Street Montana was recently conducting its round table discussions in Billings where Simkins heard members report challenges like "low wages in Montana, infrastructure, housing, and power transmission." Those challenges are (except for low wages) unlikely to be named in Missoula, which faces a radically different economy far away from the Bakken boom.

"We're not thinking that we're going to do a one size fits all plan for the entire state," Simkins said. "The idea is that we'll start at the county level, build up to a regional level, and then build up to the state level. As diverse as Montana is, we realize we'll have different answers in different areas."

Main Street Montana will meet Today at the UC Center from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m. The public is invited to participate in the meetings and contribute ideas to the ongoing conversation.

For those who may not be able to leave work between two and five, information about what happens at all of the meetings can be found at the Mains Street Montana website.

Larry Simkins