REDC, Richland County Commissioners Seeking Funds To Hire Consultant

On behalf of the Richland County Commissioners, REDC Executive Director Leslie Messer applied for, and the county was approved for, a $45,000 grant from the Big Sky Economic Development arm of the Montana Coal Tax Fund.

The Big Sky Development Fund was established in 2005 to fund qualified economic development projects. The fund receives 25% (12.5%) total of the remaining coal severance tax revenue after deposits in the coal tax bond fund. It provides grants and loans to local governments for economic development projects and certified regional development corporations for the purpose of creating good paying jobs for Montana residents, promoting long-term, stable economic growth, encouraging local economic development organizations and retaining or expanding local businesses.

Messer said she had been aware of the board and grants for many years but thought there had to be direct impact in order to apply. With all the recent changes in Richland County such as the loss of Sidney Sugars, half the coal mine, and power generation, now was the time to apply.

“The money will be used to hire a consultant who will go to every community in Richland County and determine what they would like to see in terms of development. Maybe a tech firm, maybe an ag processing company? “We want to get an accurate pulse of where the citizens of today would like to focus new development priorities,” Messer explained.

The Coal Board dollars were just the first part of Messer’s big plan. She said that when MDU was closing the power generating plant, they kept asking what they could do to help the community transition. Nothing was asked for at the time but Messer recently asked for, and received, $5000 to help pay for the consultant.

The next step is an application into the Economic Development Administration for a $100,000 grant. REDC will be competing with ten other states for $9 million in disaster relief funds. Richland County was declared a disaster after devastating straight line winds in 2020-21 but never received any assistance. The money is to be used for diversification and economic development strategies.

If fully funded by the EDA and MDU, Messer said REDC would seek requests for proposals the beginning of June, award the contract in July, and complete the project by December 2024.

Messer said she is learning from her colleagues who are dealing with various devastating changes to their economies. She said her inspiration for the consultant came from her colleague Jim Atchison in Colstrip and his actions after the coal-fired generators, 1 & 2 were shut down. His actions have resulted in a possible hydrogen project for the area.

REDC works hard to pair potential business with resources and contacts in the area and encourage economic growth. Visit them at 609 S. Central Ave., Sidney or call 406-482-4679.


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