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Chamber of Commerce, sponsors credit collaboration for moving Missoula forward

Posted at 3:40 PM, Jan 22, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-22 17:48:41-05

MISSOULA — A new distribution center planned by Summit Beverage and a federal grant secured by Missoula County for infrastructure work off Mullan Road capped the Missoula Chamber of Commerce’s annual State of Missoula presentation on Wednesday.

While the event didn’t include updates from local elected officials on pressing community issues, it did see the Chamber promote its leading sponsors and top initiatives, along with the partnerships that made them happen.

Collaboration played as the central theme of this year’s event.

“I think it’s a new, fresh definition of collaboration,” said Jason Rice, chair of the Chamber of Commerce’s Board of Directors. “There’s a lot of organizations doing great things here. We all need to do our jobs and collaborate together.”

Chamber officials twice visited Washington, D.C., last year, taking what Rice described as a “big step” in advancing local issues, including the city’s lack of childcare services and to lobby for a federal grant for infrastructure work off Mullan Road.

Both efforts netted a positive outcome, something the chamber credited Wednesday to teamwork. The new Cold Springs School Child Care Center was unveiled earlier this month, capping nearly two years of collaboration and planning.

“We as a community identified a lack of quality childcare providers,” said Todd Schaper. “It’s been an ongoing issue that needs to be addressed. As a team, we’ve been collaborating and moving this ball forward.”

Chamber officials also have taken credit for helping secure a $13 million federal grant for the Mullan project. Road connections needed to guide future growth in the area were identified back in 2002, though a lack of funding has kept progress at bay.

Missoula County twice before applied for the grant, and both times came up short. But last November, it received word that its latest application had been approved, something the chamber credited to a powerful, organized lobby.

“There were a lot of partnerships made and out-of-the-box thinking,” said Ryan Salisbury with the WGM Group. “The city and county, honestly, don’t always see eye to eye on certain topics. The private sector, the county and the city don’t always see eye to eye on things. But that wasn’t the case here. We had a vision, and I’d never seen the city and county work so closely together.”

Salisbury said projections forecast 20,000 new Missoula residents over the next two decades, along with 9,000 new homes. A portion of that growth will occur west of Reserve Street in the area encompassed by the grant.

“If you don’t manage growth, it’s going to happen anyway,” Salisbury said. “We proposed that if we were able to build backbone infrastructure – water, sewer and roads in an area that had been planned for growth for many years in the city of Missoula – we would all be better off for it.”

Chad Suitonu with Juliet Development discusses the new Veterans Affairs Community Outpatient Clinic planned for the intersection of West Broadway and Mary Jane Boulevard during the Missoula Chamber of Commerce’s State of Missoula event on Jan. 22, 2020.

Plans for the area also prompted Summit Beverage to purchase property off what will become the intersection of West Broadway and Mary Jane Boulevard. It’s there where the local distributor plans to construct a new 102,000 square-foot distribution center.

Summit, which joined the delegation in Washington, D.C, last year to lobby for the transportation grant, sold its current property to Costco, which also plans to expand into Summit’s current location.

“It’s time of a change – we need an upgrade and a new building,” said Mike Markovich, vice president of community relations for Summit. “Our plan is break ground in the spring of 2020. I think it’s going be a good fit for the Missoula community. Without Costco purchasing (our old) building, this deal would never have happened.”

Summit will also be joined at the intersection by a new Veterans Affairs Community Outpatient Clinic. The new 62,000 square-foot facility will be three times larger than the current clinic and is expected to serve roughly 50,000 veterans across western Montana.

Chad Suitonu with Juliet Development placed the clinic’s cost at $31 million, including $22.8 million in construction costs. The larger facility will include an additional 110 full-time VA jobs, along with a number of support positions.

He credited Summit Beverage for helping facilitate the land deal.

“They’re selling us the land,” said Suitonu. “It’s great to do business with somebody honest, who does what they say they’re going to do, that’s collaborative and is looking out of for Missoula veterans. It’s going to be a very nice environment – very clean, bright and open for our veteran community.”