Tuesday, January 3

No longer Mayor-elect!

Dona Stebbins was sworn in as our mayor about an hour and a half ago. Congratulations!

Dona, you have your work cut out for you. You have asked for and received a tough job, one that quite frankly gets too little compensation and too much tsuris. However, it is an important trust and we expect great things from you.

At the most basic level, we need a sea change in the management of city resources and assets. City employees and officers need to understand that they are operating those assets under a fiduciary trust for us. I don't think that that is the current perception with many that are so entrusted.

Perhaps more importantly, we need a new foundation for our economy. We have floundered for over a generation since Anaconda closed down. A first class city can not be solely base its economy on a nearby military base and a few call centers.

If you drive around the mid-West, you will find all sorts of cities and towns with a major manufacturing plant. Montana seems to have a dearth of these plants, and I have never fully understood why. We produce a huge portion of the grain and beef consumed in this country, and a good share of its minerals. This food and these minerals go to other States and countries to be processed before they are sold to end customers.

One Montana company, Wheat Montana, seems to get it right (I am not affiliated with this company in any way). They grow the wheat. They mill the flour. They sell the flour and also bake the bread. The whole idea is a simple thing called vertical integration.

Another example of this common sense idea is Pasta Montana. They even built that plant right next to the mill, so that they would not have to truck the flour. (They just blow it through a tube to the pasta plant).

I propose that we start working toward vertical integration of North-central Montana's economy. Instead of paying the railroad excessive fees to load a 26 or 52 car train with wheat, mill more of it here. Turn that flour into end products manufactured by Great Falls residents. Make Great Falls the market instead of Seattle or Chicago.

Working toward this goal will take a lot of work. We need to try.


5 said...

You have a mill that produces flour that is trucked to California and points midwest. That market is flat. Grain thats been loaded onto to railcars is destined for overseas in most cases.
But yes, it would be nice to keep everything local.

Mike said...

I couldn't agree with your salient points more strongly. As a quick aside, though, I remember reading somewhere (Tribune,blog, ?) that Stebbins wanted to scale back City involvement in future sessions of the legislature, which in my mind doesn't presage a very realistic approach to solving the problems of GF/Cascade county, with state assistance anyway.

Of course I don't have a dog in this fight but it seems if GF wants to be known as something other than the drug and slots capital of Montana, vertical integration to problem solving needs to happen across all fronts in the region. The place seems well on it's way to becoming the next Glasgow or Sidney, and while wonderful places in many regards, I don't think that's what you're aiming for.

Justin said...

At my former job I commonly hauled 80,000 pounds a week of flour out of General Mills in Great Falls headed for Daylight Donuts and Dawn Foods in Denver. I don't know who's hauling it now, and I don't know what exactly that means as far as the big global picture is concerned, but somebody in GF must have been making money off of it, I know we sure as hell didn't. The loads didn't pay much and we tended to blow one or two of our ratty old retread tires somewhere along the way on nearly every load of the ugly heavy crap. Simple fact though, if plants in Denver were buying GF flour, there must have been a reason. Either a better price, or a better product one of the two or maybe a combination. Either way, GF has a product that's in demand, and that's always a good sign.

Treasure State Jew said...

I am not a soil scientist or farmer, but I have always taken it as gospel that North-central Montana produces an extremely high quality, high protein hard wheat.

It seems to me that this raw product is one of the most valuable commodities produced in our area. Justin's experience bolsters this viewpoint.

We need to begin leveraging that product into making Great Falls a regional food processor. Northcentral Alberta has done the same thing with their food production (of course, they were helped by their national Parliament, which funnelled millions into creating irrigation districts). Little towns like Taber now process vegetables for the international market, for some huge conglomerates. Many thousands of high-paying jobs were created in the process.

We may not have the oil money to create these irrigation districts. However, our wheat and barley are extremely valuable and desireable commodities. We need to have the will to work toward turning them into end-products here.

We are on the right track. In the past decade, two (small) manufacturing plants have opened up to process our agricultural product.

Pasta Montana and IMC's barley malting plant are both now local markets for our farmer's products. Our residents process the grain into another products, and the jobs are very high paying for our region. However, we need to do more.

If we don't, Mike is right. Within a generation, Great Falls will look a whole lot like Glasgow or Sidney.

Treasure State Jew said...

Of course, I mean Southern Alberta. Northern Alberta does not need to worry about manufacturing plants, as it has the second largest natural supply of oil in the world.

GeeGuy said...

I have no disagreement whatsoever with your suggestion that we need to create vertically integrated, or value added, industries here. Montana has for too long been a resource that the rest of the country draws upon at their leisure.

That said, though, I think you sell Great Falls a little short. I will give Mike a pass since he doesn't live here, but Aaron, another Glasgow? Do you think the Clinic will just blow away? You will overlook the Centene and AvMax successes?

I will make this argument. Other than Billings, the other growth cities in our state are there by virtue of external forces: Helena? The government. Bozmassoulaspell? The mountains.

When, not if, we grow, it will be due to the positive efforts of the people.

Here's a related, although somewhat off point, thought. Speaking of manufacturing, and given our obvious gaming fixation, why are we not a center for manufacturing of gambling devices?

Treasure State Jew said...

Geeguy; For at least medical services, we are a regional distribution center. The clinic and Benefis are important fixtures in our economy.

However, that works because of a snowball effect. Hospitals and clinics in rural areas go to the largest population center in an area.

Without Malmstrom, that is not permanent. Already, access to many medical specialists are only available by travelling to Missoula and Billings. Two hospitals and a clinic will only be here as long as there is a population to get sick.

Centene and AvMax are great successes. Those employers, like NEW, Pasta Montana and IMCs Barley Malting Plant are other great successes. They move the ball forward.

We have made field goals, and we are on first or second down. However, our last touchdown was NEW and those jobs could be easily moved if situations changed.

Your idea about gambling machines has merit. I don't know if there is a sufficient base of people with the necessary electronics skills, but it should be investigated.

However, I always believe that you pick the low hanging fruit before those on the top of the tree. Agriculture is our "external force." Northcentral Montana produces many millions of dollars in grain, livestock and other foodstuffs. Right now, those raw products are just outputs. We need to make them inputs so that our outputs can be put right on grocery shelves.