State chamber explains objectives
By Kyle Vuille
Ranger-Review Staff Writer
On Wednesday afternoon, Makoshika State Park hosted the Montana Chamber of Commerce to reveal Envision 2026, a strategic economic plan with goals and objectives to boost Montana’s economy.
The main speaker was Webb Brown, the Montana Chamber President out of Helena. Brown broke down the objectives from the state’s plan.
Brown’s team included operations director Dan Brunell and communications director Alexandria Klapmeier, who are accompanying Brown on his statewide tour.
Local politicians in attendance were Rep. Alan Doane, Sen. Steve Hinebauch and Glendive Mayor Jerry Jimison.
Local business representatives like Kathy Mclane, Christine Whitlatch and Staci Knuths were also in attendance.
Webb presented the four main focuses of the Envision 2026 plan. Those focuses are based on workforce development, business climate, infrastructure investment and entrepreneurship.
On the workforce development end, Brunell said the state looks to the past and gives flat line projections for jobs in the future, instead of recognizing that economies are dynamic. He gave a hypothetical on the local spectrum, saying if Mid-Rivers sent information to the state’s chamber about needing 200 tech service employees in the next 10 years, the chamber would reach out across the state to make sure the correct college programs in the corresponding time span would be available to match up with the job requirements.
Brown addressed Montana’s business climate. He said changes in legislation are necessary because workman’s compensation premiums in Montana are one of the larger expenses to businesses.
He mentioned a program set to launch next month called Work Safe MT, a program modeled after Work Safe B.C. in Canada. Brown described the program as a public awareness campaign that offers employer assistance to implement more safety precautions in the work environment.
He said his upbringing in the timber industry in Western Montana gives him understanding of industry hazards.
“The cheapest accident you have is the one you don’t have,” Brown said.
Montana does have a higher rate of work accidents than other states because of the kinds of jobs in the state, he noted.
The focus then turned towards the objective of the investment of infrastructure across the state. Whether it be tangible infrastructure or things that can’t physically be seen like internet access. Several attendees spoke on the subject of telecommunication and how it could be bring more jobs to Montana because people who travel with the seasons can still work “in” Montana.
Another matter brought up in the meeting that related to the economy was the amount of “brain drain” Montana suffers. Brain drain can be simplified as college graduates leaving the state for better job opportunities and environments.
Alex Evans with the Small Business Development Center out of Miles City was also in attendance and gave his personal anecdote of leaving Montana and then returning.
“Most of my friends back in Spokane thought I was crazy,” Evans said. “It’s just a whole different world and especially in this more rural part of the state, it’s harder to find like minded people sometimes for younger professionals so that might always be a struggle.”
The scope of the meeting finally turned to the state’s entrepreneurship, and especially younger entrepreneurs throughout the state. It was said many times that entrepreneurs are a great asset to the economy and the chamber wants to help future business owners find the appropriate resources and means to build and grow a business.
“There are a lot of great local efforts at local chambers, Brunell said. “And as the state chamber, we want to amplify that.”
An issue that is centric to Montana, but more specifically Eastern Montana, as Glendive Chamber of Commerce’s Director Christine Whitlatch pointed out, is the stigma against finding resources and the help needed.
“I think a challenge in developing that organization when you get as far east as Eastern Montana in homesteading communities is the stories everyone shares just culturally are their survival stories,” Whitlatch said. “Nobody shares the stories about when they’re in the trenches and when they need the help which makes it hard for you to get in and help the struggling business.”
The group discussed business plans that have been successful and issues that can be improved upon.
Whitlatch and Mayor Jimison also gave recognition to Doane and Hinebauch for helping the area legislatively.
Whitlatch in a interview Friday morning spoke about the importance of the partnership between the local chamber and the state chamber. She said it’s hard for Eastern Montana to get things rolling because it’s such a large area with so few people in it.
“We need a voice politically in Helena so that’s why the partnership is important,” Whitlatch said. “There’s a lot of agencies that won’t go past Billings.”
Whitlatch noted what a help Brown has been to her during her time as director and the state chamber hosting MACE (Montana Association of Chamber Executives).
“They provide the structure for that,” Whitlatch said.
On the local spectrum, Whitlatch finds the state’s chamber tour a great way for more people on the other side of the state to see attractions here like Makoshika State Park.
“They’re a link to Western Montana to share and promote what an asset Makoshika is to the state,” Whitlatch said.
Whitlatch ended by saying the Glendive Chamber of Commerce is happy to host the state chamber.
Reach Kyle Vuille at