Whenever the topic concerning the lack of growth, development, and good jobs in Great Falls comes up, the discussion often goes something like this:
Mr. Wannaknow: “Why can’t we seem to prosper and grow like other Montana communities?”
Mr. Knowitall: “Well, obviously it’s because we aren’t on a east-west interstate and we don’t have a state college here. Stop being so negative.”
Mr. Wannaknow: “Oh, okay. Sorry.”
I’ve got news for Mr. Knowitall – that dog don’t hunt, or that horse don’t buck, or that chicken don’t lay eggs, or whatever other folksy metaphor you choose that means ‘WRONG-O’.
Whenever people ask me if I’ve lived in Great Falls all my life I tell them, “Not yet”.
But I have lived here long enough to remember when our beautiful little city was the biggest, most prosperous, bustling town in Montana. We were the envy of the Treasure State. We didn’t have a state college or an east-west interstate back then either.
To which Mr. Knowitall replies: “Yeah but we had the smelter and a flying mission at MAFB and Great Falls Select brewery and Burlington Northern. Stop being so negative.”
To which I reply: “So it’s not because we don’t have a state college or an east-west interstate?”
To which Mr. Knowitall replies: “Stop being so negative.”
Actually, we need to stop being so blind. We have the potential here in Great Falls to once again be a thriving, growing place to live, work and raise a family.
In order to do that we need to fix the problems we can do something about and that are right in front of us instead of making lame excuses for our abysmal lack of vision and growth.
Now here’s the good news.
Back in 2014 when I was serving as the Government Affairs Director for the Great Falls Association of Realtors we organized a group of realtors, developers and business leaders called the Coalition to meet with City officials and staff to discuss the local development process and policies. As a result we identified three major areas that needed to be addressed:
- One point of contact – Having one city contact from the beginning stages of a project all the way through completion would help guide the developer through the process and greatly increase customer satisfaction.
- Streamline the overall development process – Either do away with the Design Review Board, which is currently suspended, or make it completely optional. The added expense and time involved for developers is an unnecessary burden and hassle for design issues that could be addressed in city code.
- A verifiable document trail – signed onto by city staff for every step of the development process required, including inspections and permitting. Having such a record for each project readily available, preferably online, would insure against future disagreements and misunderstandings between city staff/officials and developers. It would also provide accountability and transparency.
According to a recent article in The Electric, the City Planning and Community Development Department is undertaking some of the changes we advocated for and discussed back then. This is awesome news for Great Falls and congratulations and kudos are in order, City staff has listened to local stakeholders and is implementing the much needed changes.
This will go a long ways towards getting Great Falls back on track. I know we can’t return the old glory days, but we can and must make new glory days.