Anyone with an interest in economic development in southern Lincoln County should give serious thought to attending one of the upcoming meetings that will kick off the development of a new Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy, or CEDS.
The CEDS is needed to be eligible for financial assistance from the federal Economic Development Administration. A lot of money is available, but it's a competitive process. The Kootenai River Development Council is currently seeking $1.5 million from EDA for a $2.5 million project to make numerous improvements at the former Stimson mill site. The proposal includes upgrades to the site's roads, rail line, and electrical, water and sewer infrastructure and is aimed at making the site more attractive to businesses.
The CEDS will also help provide a basis for grants from sources other than the EDA by showing that needs were identified through a public planning process. Community input from a wide range of perspectives is vital to help identify those needs.
The new CEDS will replace one developed five years ago. A lot has changed since then.
Some of the needs identified five years ago have been met. Development of a performing arts center was listed as a need, and now we have the Memorial Center, which is in use almost every weekend. Likewise, extension of broadband telecommunications to the area was identified as a need, and while there is still room for improvement, we're no longer limited to dial-up service.
Other changes in the last five years include the loss of the Stimson mill - now the site of the Kootenai Business Park Industrial District - and an increase in mining activity. The Troy Mine was brought out of mothballs and is now back in production, while two different companies are looking at opening new mines under the Cabinet Mountains.
The kickoff meetings will be held at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 13, at the Memorial Center in Libby and Thursday, March 15, at the fire hall in Troy. - Brent Shrum