Leslie Messer and the Richland Economic Development Corp. (REDC) have been busy. The executive director of the REDC made that clear at a recent Sidney Kiwanis meeting.
Messer was invited to speak at the Kiwanis’ weekly luncheon at the Elks Club in downtown Sidney. She came well-prepared, confident and eager to share some of the many REDC achievements over the past eight months.
“I love my job,” Messer told a couple dozen Kiwanis members and guests as they enjoyed homemade tomato soup with herbs and grilled ham-and-cheese sandwiches.
Thanks to support from the Kiwanis and the community of Richland County, Messer said her efforts to spearhead REDC projects are made easier.
“Never felt more validated in being able to help businesses with resources,” she said.
Judging from the list of 33 recent REDC achievements — which Messer detailed methodically but succinctly — the non-profit county Economic Development Corp. has been busy.
Among the many items Messer discussed, a statewide evaluation meeting was held in Sidney to examine best practices in economic development between Montana and other states. To help expedite the project, consulting firm Nex/Gen was hired to compare Montana with neighboring states, Messer said.
“Our organization held a strategic-thinking session,” partly to gain information on leadership training, she told Kiwanis members.
“Making sure we’re keeping our community informed,” is a crucial goal, Messer added, crediting the leadership team of Stockman Bank in Sidney with playing an important role toward accomplishing that goal.
Two examples of maintaining dialogue with businesses and other organizations are the MonDak Utilities Co. and the Yellowstone River Coalition, which is striving to expand public access to the local river.
“We have to continue to keep our communications open with MDU resources,” Messer said, adding that both MDU leadership and the Yellowstone River Coalition are receptive to discussing future plans with the REDC.
Among numerous items she discussed, Messer pointed out the REDC has played an active role in addressing concerns with the LYR Coalition regarding the intake diversion system along the Lower Yellowstone River.
“I can’t even begin to tell you how many Zoom conferences we’ve had to keep things going,” she told the Kiwanis.
Without missing a beat, Messer mentioned a significant win in obtaining $10,000 from the Montana governor’s office after applying for a social services non-profit grant to help cover payroll expenses.
Continuing with funding programs through Gov. Steve Bullock’s office, Messer informed the Kiwanis that REDC was able to help obtain money for M3 Meats, Eastern MT Meats and Craig’s Meat Processing, which they reportedly used to purchase equipment.
The executive director mentioned she was able to set up meetings with Congressman Greg Gianforte (R-Mont.) and U.S. Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) during their recent visits to the area, presumably to discuss supporting Richland County with federal funding.
She was particularly enthusiastic about the REDC’s solid relationship with local officials, including Sidney Mayor Rick Norby — a Sidney Kiwanis — and key citizens from Savage.
Messer said she presented the Savage Sunrise Manor board with opportunities to obtain grants that will help improve its assisted-living facility. In fact, REDC helped the Savage group obtain a $2,000 grant, reportedly used to purchase eight Apple iPads for residents.
Messer spoke enthusiastically about additional efforts to help the Savage community, which faces uncertainty over a planned shutdown of vital coal-mining operations due to a nationwide movement to eliminate carbon-producing energy sources.
Savage relies heavily on its coal-mining operations, not only because it employs local residents but because the Savage School District depends on business-tax contributions to educate local kids.
Messer made clear to Sidney Kiwanis the REDC cares about the fate of the Savage community. The non-profit organization, founded in 1987, is trying to help the area plan for the future.
One of the most important items on Messer’s list of 33 talking points is number 16. It reads:
“Worked with Savage Community Hall board to assist them to apply for funding to purchase an enclosed trailer, replace exterior doors on the building, purchase tables and chairs, and repaint the interior of the building. Many thanks to Stockman Bank and MDU Resources for their assistance.”
Messer also thanked the Sidney Health Center Foundation for Community Care for providing funding to purchase handheld radios for local Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) throughout Richland County.
Additional points Messer discussed with the Sidney Kiwanis on September 10:
• Encouraged REDC office personnel to participate in Leadership Montana’s Flagship and Master’s training classes
• Communicated with the Public Service Commission regarding MDU’s closure; provided outreach between the REDC’s board and full membership and local chambers, the press, Savage school district leaders, Richland County commissioners, Fairview Town Council and Sidney City Hall officials
• Partnered with Sidney Sugars, Seigfreid Agency, ONEOK, LYREC, Big Sky Siding & Windows, Stockman Bank and the Sidney Chamber to pay tribute to local and nationwide truckers by providing them with lunches and “goodie bags”
• Partnered with local groups to recognize EMTs, firefighters, county and local law enforcement personnel including dispatchers, ER nurses and aides, providing them with goodie bags to show gratitude
• Applied for a $500 Business Adaptation grant through the state of Montana as “reimbursement of expenses” to set up a remote office
• Completed an Executive Director “Practice of Procedure Manual”
• Conducted a Leadership Montana podcast titled “Listen First Montana”
• Recruited new members during the COVID-19 downturn
Although this represents merely a sampling of the nearly three dozen talking points on Messer’s list of recent accomplishments, she went through them all quickly and efficiently.
When she was finished, Messer left no doubt about two things. She loves her job, and she’s good at it.