Groups lay plans for the Greater Yellowstone region
A year-long effort funded through the Yellowstone Business Partnership (YBP) kicked off Thursday (Feb. 28) in six sub-regions to press social, economic, and natural assets into service for year-round economic activity at Yellowstone National Park. Workshop sites in Bozeman, Billings, Lander, Jackson, Pocatello and Idaho Falls were connected by video conference, unifying the Greater Yellowstone region as it tackles common socioeconomic and transportation challenges.
Dr. Larry Swanson, director of the Center for the Rocky Mountain West and principal investigator for the Turning On the Off-Season report, was the featured speaker.
Thanks to a USDA Rural Business Opportunity Grant received by YBP last year, each sub-regional team of volunteers will receive $10,000 for strategic research and planning into expanding their non-summer economies.
The sub-regional teams will include a broad range of citizens, educators, business owners, and members of local agencies, chambers of commerce, professional organizations, and economic development groups. ITD is among the partners involved in planning.
“Seasonal economic fluctuations really limit business and employment opportunities in our rural communities,” says Janice Brown, director of YBP, a business coalition dedicated to environmental stewardship and shaping sustainable economies in the 25 Montana, Idaho and Wyoming counties surrounding Yellowstone and Teton national parks.
“Our goal with this project is to find cross-boundary solutions to transportation, workforce, services, and housing challenges that are with us year-round, but that truly hold us back when summer ends. The prospects for positive action through these new regional collaborations are very exciting.”
YBP’s 2007 report Turning On the Off-Season guided the sub-regional teams, providing information about tri-state growth patterns and associated problems and opportunities. Each team discussed the 2007 report and brainstormed priority off-season projects for its assigned counties. Regions also refined their project with fact-gathering and technical support provided by local universities and colleges, and coordinated and shared ideas with the other five teams.
Joint meetings of all six teams are scheduled for the YBP annual meeting in May and at the YBP Seasonality Summit in Cody Oct. 6-7. An equally important focus of these gatherings was a $40,000 parallel study to develop a “Concept of Operations” plan for connecting public and private transportation providers across the tri-state region. Funding for this regional networking effort is being provided by the Idaho Department of Transportation and USDA Rural Development.
Outcomes of the socioeconomic and transportation studies will be summarized in a final report to the USDA in December. The report will serve as a strategic plan for implementing cross-boundary projects and as a tool to leverage more funding for Greater Yellowstone as a whole.
“On Feb. 28,” says Janice Brown, “our region took a big step toward working collaboratively across county and state boundaries to resolve our most complex socioeconomic problems. Turning On the Off-Season gives us a good understanding of what’s going on and why. Now it’s time to work together for the common good of our tri-state region.”