Snowy Mountain Development Corp. Wins Innovation Award from MEDA for Creekside Project Photo

Snowy Mountain Development Corp. Wins Innovation Award from MEDA for Creekside Project

Kathie Bailey, Executive Director for Snowy Mountain Development Corp., has a simple mantra – “If you’re going to succeed it’s up to you. As a community, you have to step up and create what you want.” That attitude is shared by the residents of Lewistown, Montana, as evident by their Creekside Project, an initiative that led to Snowy Mountain Development Corp. earning MEDA’s Innovation Award.

Community members in Lewistown decided they wanted a public meeting space, a place to gather to eat and listen to music, and outdoor restrooms – all things that would make the downtown an epicenter for family recreation. When a developer expressed interest in redeveloping a property and turning it into a brewery, the community saw an opportunity to assist with that development project by providing necessary parking while also creating outdoor spaces that the entire community could enjoy. The project was driven, in part, by the young families in town who were excited about the idea of creating a family-friendly gathering place.

For the Creekside project to be completed, $1.4 million needed to be raised, $850,000 of that had to be from local donations. In a town of only 6,000 people, they were able to reach their goal and are partway through construction. This demonstrates the phenomenal commitment of individuals and families living in Lewistown. They were willing to step up, write checks and help create the community space they were desiring. Kathie said, “People in Lewistown are willing to write checks. They do not expect any money back in return but are pleased to have a space the entire community can enjoy.” Once the Creekside project is complete it will have an outdoor amphitheater, stage, restrooms, parking and plenty of green space. It will truly become a hub of downtown activity.

Other Communities Can Learn from Lewistown

Kathie has also been involved in helping other communities develop their own source of local funds so that they can realize the benefits of investing in themselves. The Musselshell Rural Investment Cooperative has been formed to help achieve that goal. Located in Roundup, this is the first Rural Investment Cooperative in the state. Now, community members can pool their funds in a cooperative fashion and vote on the investments that they will make. “This is an example of taking everyone's little pennies and putting them in one pot, so we have a larger amount of money to make a difference and to invest in a project” said Kathie. The first project they are interested in is the renovation of the historic Central School. A developer has agreed to redevelop the property and turn it into housing and commercial space. To get started, the developer is needing to raise additional capital. Though most people in the community do not have enough to buy a share out right, by putting their money into the cooperative, they are able to pool their resources and to make an investment. “This model is a win-win for rural communities who want greater agency over how to develop their community. It places power in the hands of local residents,” said Kathie.

Success Takes Time

Snowy Mountain Development Corp. has had incredible success with both the Creekside project and the Cooperative. They are also having success with the utilization of their revolving loan funds, helping companies like Spika Design and Manufacturing to make platforms used by NASA, or Fitness Central to serve the local community, along with the business, Move Bumpers, to ship bumper kits throughout the country. The gap financing they provide is used by businesses in six counties to help secure the financing they need to launch or grow. They also have a Brownfields program that has been used to clean up several sites and create additional green space. Still, the successes did not happen overnight.

Kathie Bailey was part of the group who founded SMDC 18 years ago after seeing the need to direct federal and state resources to rural communities. From their office in Lewistown, they provide assistance in Fergus, Golden Valley, Judith Basin, Musselshell, Petroleum, and Wheatland counties. It took years of hard work, partnership building and collaboration to reach the point where the organization could start their second revolving loan fund and finance the brownfield projects. The key is to have a vision, keep working at it and have a long-term perspective. Doing so has served Kathie, SMDC and these rural counties well. Now, as more community members actively invest in their future, as they did with the Creekside Project, it is likely that SMDC will experience even greater levels of successes.

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