Grunke column: Connecting the dots through strategic partnerships

Anybody who has been in the business world for long knows that plenty of organizations bandy about the term “strategic partner.” Sometimes those words are nothing but a fancy label for a politically beneficial relationship of mutual friendliness.

But at Missoula Economic Partnership, the importance of those two words is reflected in our very name. We are an organization defined by a spirit of partnership. We exist, in large measure, to foster connections.

While the Partnership does run several of its own programs, most of the resources that matter to growing businesses and those considering a move to Missoula are provided by other organizations and private sector entities around the area. Missoula is, in fact, blessed with governmental, nonprofit and educational institutions that offer not only excellent resources, but also a level of flexibility and individualized service that one rarely finds anywhere else. Rather than duplicating those programs, the Partnership decided from the outset that our most valuable roles in the community would be those of master networker and knowledge base.

Critical to our success, then, are our relationships with the more than 30 strategic partners in the community, state and beyond who provide everything from training programs to business development grants to community infrastructure.

On a day-to-day basis, that approach is evident in the way that we work with partner organizations such as the BitterRoot Economic Development District. As the federally designated economic development district for the Western Montana region, BREDD works to help local companies as they apply for and administer grants offered by the Montana Department of Commerce, the U.S. Economic Development Administration, USDA Rural Development and other agencies.

Those grants can be substantial, even transformative in the growth of a company. Yet they can also be complicated to arrange — especially for small companies that are focused on their day-to-day operations. BREDD itself serves many functions in helping companies secure those grants, but much work falls outside its mission. Letters of support and other documentation must be compiled and organized. Elected officials must be rallied. The list goes on.

That’s where we come in. By knowing what grants will — and will not — fit a company’s profile and by knowing the needs and assets of the company, we help everyone involved shave precious time and potential frustration out of the process.

We have already seen tangible results from connections that we have fostered between local businesses and strategic partners such as BREDD, Missoula Job Service, Montana Community Development Corporation and the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, to name but a few. One local manufacturer accessed federal funding for a major feasibility study toward an expansion into a new industry. A Missoula tech company tapped into funding that resulted in growth, additional employees and the attraction of venture capital. The list goes on.

Those companies could have made those connections themselves, of course — if only they had the time and knew where to start looking.

Really, that is our value proposition at its simplest. If we can shorten the cycle of hiring and expansion for local businesses and provide one-stop service for companies considering a move to our area, we accelerate the growth of Missoula’s overall economy.

Partnership is our strategy to make that happen.

This column by James Grunke, CEO of Missoula Economic Partnership, originally appeared in the July 21, 2012 edition of the Missoulian’s Western Montana InBusiness.

Missoula Economic Partnership | 500 N. Higgins Ave. | Suite 300 | Missoula, Montana 59802 | P: 406.541.6461 | F: 406.541.6464