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GFDA hosts 'Ignite 24' to highlight economic growth

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Posted at 5:59 PM, Jan 12, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-13 11:21:05-05

GREAT FALLS — The Great Falls Development Authority hosted “Ignite 2024” at the Meadowlark Country Club on Friday, January 12, 2024.

“I think 2024 is going to be our best year yet,” said Brett Doney, President and CEO of the Great Falls Development Alliance.

Nearly two dozen businesses and organizations presented their startup or expansion plans or updates on current projects for the new year.

The audience was briefed on housing projects including the Aurora Apartments and Bayview Housing Development.

Affordable housing was also discussed as Neighborworks Great Falls continues work on the Baatz Block, as well as plans for the Elmore Roberts Apartments downtown and the Ulmer Square on 3rd Avenue South.

“You know, we need homes at all levels of income,” said Neighborworks Great Falls Executive Director Sherrie Arey. “But for those workforce housing and those that are on really some fixed incomes at lower level or hourly wages, having homes that they can afford, whether it's an apartment or a single family home so that they can invest in our community, they can work in our community and thrive in our community Is essential to the growing of the community.”

On the healthcare front, attendees were updated on the MSU School of Nursing, expansion of the Great Falls Clinic and Hospital, a streamlined medical record system at Benefis, and a new primary care provider that specializes in treating seniors.

“They are on Medicare and Medicaid. A lot of times the payers are paying a lower rate and so what we've done is we've partnered with some of the payers to help alleviate some of the financial burden, which means that we can still provide services to those folks that kind of slip through the cracks sometimes,” said Amee Ellsworth with Greater Good Health.

Food lovers won’t be disappointed. Old Chicago Pizza is moving into the old Boston’s building, Pizza Ranch will take over the former Joann’s Fabrics location, and a Hot Pot is coming to West Bank Landing.

New restaurant and bar openings aren’t just confined to Great Falls. The historic and revamped Wagon Wheel Bar and Grill in Choteau is hoping to open in the spring.

Heidi Snyder, Wagon Wheel Bar and Grill Manager, explained, "We are going to have local Montana ingredients, which includes not only our food menu, which is going to be a fusion of different cuisines, but we're going to have local beef right there in Sodo that we're going to have on our menus.”

Three years ago, Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine presented at Ignite. Now, they are in full operation and sponsoring the event.

“To be here at Ignite and hear all of the things that are coming and knowing how that will impact our students, our students' families and to be a part of that is just fabulous,” said Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine Dean, Dr. Elizabeth Palmarozzi.

GFDA says today’s presentations are just part of the economic growth plan. According to Senior Vice President Jolene Schalper, in the last three months, the organizations sales team has been working on 150 projects.

As the event concluded, GFDA President and CEO Brett Doney said the Great Falls economy is moving in the right direction.

Doney says the long-term goal is to have a thriving economy where people are making more money but still have enough housing to stay affordable.

“It started out, we were at 93% of the cost of living and 63% of the average annual wage. Now we're at 85.6% the cost of living compared to the national average, and we're up to 76% on average of the annual wage,” said Doney.