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2021 a record year for local economic development

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RONAN — Mission West Community Development Partners recently released their 2021 Community Impact Statement, revealing what they call a record-breaking year of success.

With a mission of “community focused economic development,” MWCDP serves Lake, Mineral, and Sanders Counties as a local lender and technical services provider to un-bankable small businesses and underserved clients to assist with local business, community, and food development. About 65% of their 1,007 local clients served come from Lake County, both tribal and non-tribal. 

One of the essential services MWCDP provides, according to Executive Director Jim Thaden, is information and access to state and federal government resources for both community and economic development. The organization was able to achieve that in 2021 through grants, COVID relief funds, loans, and even the creation of jobs. 

“Our primary purpose is to provide access to resources, mostly government, in rural areas because government agencies can’t afford to have their own people in these regions,” Thaden said. “A lot of the work we do is to match people up with opportunities.”

In 2021, MWCDP was designated as an Economic Development Administration (EDA) District leader by the national EDA, which awarded them grant funding to lead the region in a Comprehensive Economic Development Study through 2027 to help governments, private businesses, and nonprofits qualify for funding, grants, and loans. “The lending facility that we have is one of the strongest attributes that we bring to the region,” Thaden said. “By doing that lending, it stimulates job growth, it stimulates tax growth, it provides more essential services that are needed by everybody in the region. The beneficial part of it is that when we lend and the clients pay us back, that multiplies.”

After collaborating with over 30 organizations on both a local and national level, MWCDP was able to amass $2.6 million in managed development grants and add award $1.3 million in new development grants in 2021. 

According to Thaden, MWCDP usually has 12 to 14 one- to three-year duration grants under management from organizations such as the USDA, private foundations, and state agencies. Last year, the organization was awarded $1 million from the USDA and AMF food systems partnership for the development of the Northwest Food Hub Network. They also received grants for food access programs, allowing them to supply food to 21 food banks and over 1,800 recipients. 

Additional grants included $40,000 for a feasibility study for the development of an entrepreneurship and remote worker training program, and funding from the Montana State Board of Education and private funders to develop and distribute a Montana Marinara sauce for potential use throughout the Montana school system. 

One significant resource MWCDP secured and dispersed in 2021 was $990,254 in COVID relief funding. 

“Montana got a big dose of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding. That money is just getting out through the state government into the hands of economic developers and communities today,” Thaden explained. “About 75% of the benefit of the ARPA funding is still to come.”

The money funded initiatives such as the Mission Valley Food Box program, engineering studies for infrastructure and housing projects, loan payment deferrals and interest reductions, and, according to Thaden, a great deal of COVID-related free technical advice and services to small businesses. “Worthy projects,” Thaden said.

Another large part of the services provided by MWCDP is free technical service. Beyond just technical support and training, MWCDP provides information and education about access to state and government programs. Offered to value added food producers and existing or prospective small businesses, as well as individual clients and local governments, the organization ended up providing over 3,700 hours of service last year throughout the counties. 

As for local lending, Thaden said the organization’s portfolio maintains 55 to 75 loans for un-bankable small businesses, as well as a reserve of funds for future lending. In 2021, MWCDP had $7.4 million in loan funds under management, with $1.7 million in new loans made and around $1.8 million currently available to lend. 

“The number of new loans we make grows each year, and 2021 was no exception,” Thaden wrote. “It feels like the local economy is already picking up in anticipation of a strong 2022 tourist season. With continued in-bound migration, there will be ongoing robust demand for housing and more essentials services, so we think the economic prospects for our region will be bright through 2022 and possibly well into 2023.”

Finally, when it came to last year’s job creation and retention, Thaden said the statistics are hard to capture as clients expand and contract their workforce throughout the year as conditions warrant. That said, the numbers reported by their clients show 112 jobs retained, and 114 new jobs created in the region. MWCDP assists in getting clients grants for job creation and workforce development from the state, and Thaden said the reports they’ve gotten indicate the clients believe their assistance is very helpful in retaining and growing their businesses. 

“There are three principles in all the work that we’re doing that we’re trying to maintain,” Thaden explained. “The first is that our region maintains cultural respect. The second is that we are environmentally progressive, and the third is that we do things that are economically sustainable. The reason for those three priorities is that that is really the history of our region, and we want to preserve our values and the character of our region and the natural resources… we ought to take care of this.”

To learn how to receive assistance from the MWCDP, visit their office in Ronan, their website at, or call 406-676-5901. 

“We’re thankful to be part of this wonderful community,” MWCDP said in a statement. “Thank you so much for being our neighbors and friends.”

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