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New trade agreement could help Golden Triangle attract processors

Brett Doney was in Atlanta on Monday, Oct. 1, for an economic development conference. By early afternoon, he had yet to attend a single session. Instead, he had spent all his time on phone calls and emails discussing the new United States-Mexico-...

Brett Doney, president of the Great Falls Development Authority
Brett Doney, president of the Great Falls Development Authority
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Brett Doney was in Atlanta on Monday, Oct. 1, for an economic development conference. By early afternoon, he had yet to attend a single session. Instead, he had spent all his time on phone calls and emails discussing the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement and what it might mean for the Great Falls, Mont., area.

Doney, president of the Great Falls, Mont., Development Authority, said the new trade agreement that is slated to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement should offer some certainty to help plans for further value-added agriculture efforts in Montana's Golden Triangle.

Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada, Doney explained, has 124 food processing companies. The Great Falls area has 18. The Great Falls Development Authority sees big potential in increasing value-added projects, and Doney has had many conversations with Canadian companies about expanding - rather than moving - to the U.S.

"Uncertainty that has been building over the last many months has affected companies differently, but many of them have put plans on hold and are waiting to see how things shake out," he said.

Companies that may make long-term capital investments "want reasonable expectation they know what the rules are going to be."

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Doney sees potential for processing of crops already grown in northern Montana, as well as of crops that aren't yet grown in great quantity but could be. Conversations so far have involved plants that would use pulses, oilseeds, wheat, organic crops and "ancient grains."

Expanded value-added processing would benefit many, Doney said. It provides more jobs, more tax base and "the farmers and ranchers end up with more money in their pockets," he said.

The under-construction Pardue Grain facility in Cut Bank, Mont., which will process pulse products, is an example of what Doney hopes will come to the Golden Triangle.

With a new agreement underway, Doney expects more plans will move forward in and around Great Falls. He said he's happy to hear an agreement has been reached, as the negotiations have been especially painful on the northern border.

"The sharp words and what have you ... didn't help" bring companies to Montana, he said.

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