The Great Falls Montana Development Authority (GFDA) announced it has been selected by the Montana Department of Agriculture as one of the state's four Food & Ag Development Centers. This announcement comes on the heels of Great Falls businesses including Montana Specialty Mills and Montana Eggs expanding dairy and agriculture operations in the area.

Food and agricultural processing has long been a target industry to grow and diversify the Great Falls regional economy, support the creation of higher wage jobs and expand the region's tax base. Other Food and Ag centers in Montana include Havre, Joliet and Ronan.

"Montana ships about 85 percent of its agricultural production out of state without adding more value, creating tremendous opportunity for ingredient and product production," says Jolene Schalper, vice president and interim director of the new center. "We have enjoyed many successes in winning private investment in this critical industry sector, attracting businesses like MaltEurop, Timeless Seeds, The Front Brewing Co., Windrift Hill, Pasta Montana, Montana Specialty Mills, Cut Bank Creek Brewery, Montana Eggs, and more!"

"Montana farm and ranch earnings were down over 50% in 2016, making it even more important to create new local markets for our world-class agricultural production," says Kim Mangold, deputy director of the Montana Department of Agriculture. "We are proud to have Great Falls join the statewide network."

GDFA has partnered with the Montana Department of Agriculture to target niches in food and agricultural processing that offer growth opportunities for the Great Falls region.

With funding support from the U.S. Economic Development Administration and the Montana Growth Through Agriculture program, the authority has published eight business cases in targeted niches. These include: Pulse Fractionation; Pulse Butters, Dips and Spreads; Pulse Snacks; Specialty Malting; Sprouted Grains; Specialty Pasta; Wheat Ingredients; and Barley Ingredients.

"We're using these business cases to help convince local entrepreneurs, existing businesses and companies outside the state that our region offers numerous market opportunities to process food and agricultural ingredients and products right here where it is grown," continues Schalper. GDFA offers business coaching, technical assistance, gap and bridge financing, site selection and other assistance to businesses.

Cut Bank Creek Brewery worked with GFDA and recently opened in Cut Bank, Montana. "The service GFDA provided was invaluable. Without their help, Cut Bank Creek Brewery wouldn't be a realization. I don't know if we would have ever made it," says co-owner Louis Stoltz. "They are priceless to us," says co-owner Kim Stoltz.

In 2016, GFDA opened the Great Falls AgriTech Park to provide fully-served heavy industrial sites for food and agricultural processors, as well as other industry. The 197-acre AgriTech Park offers customized heavy industrial lots ranging in size from seven to 300+ acres. It's the region's first industrial park to offer ready to build lots with access to utilities and rail.

GDFA invested more than $8 million for the construction of the AgriTech Park. Earlier this year, the site was given an Excellence in Regional Transportation Award for its rail system by the National Association of Development Organizations and was certified by the BNSF as part of its Premier Parks Program.

Current AgriTech Park tenants include a cross section of local and foreign direct investments including Montana Specialty Mills, FedEx Ground, Pacific Steel & Recycling and Japanese-owned Helena Chemical.

"Being recognized as a Food & Ag Development Center will boost our long-standing efforts to expand and diversify food and agricultural processing in Great Falls, the Golden Triangle and beyond,” continues Doney. "This designation will allow us to increase efforts to help existing businesses and entrepreneurial start-ups, and to attract out of state businesses to Montana."

Source: Great Falls Montana Development Authority