top of page

Glue, Momentum, Plans

Howdy folks,

When I first made the jump from side hustle to full-time with CreativeLeigh Digital in August of 2023, I was connected early on with Katherine Archibald,Janelle Wilberding, and former CEO Shane Etzweiler at the Great Falls Chamber of Commerce. I was intimidated. I was in the middle of my divorce, had just moved to Great Falls, and I had no clue how to run a business full-time. And on top of that, my network was slim. I had met a few people here and there, but I didn’t know how to do business in Great Falls. The politics, the economics, and the networking of this new town was foreign to me, and I wanted to learn how to navigate Great Falls. The Chamber not only gave me a list of various business networking organizations to join around town, but had a solid rotation of social events and opportunities of their own. 

From new business ribbon cuttings, to luncheons and happy hours, I have been able to grow my network and meet many of Cascade County’s finest business leaders. Many of these handshakes were business-only, but several of those introductions have led to the development of social friendships, which has alleviated much of the loneliness in this transition time. Many of these events were held at restaurants and offices around town, which helped me learn about the dining and services in my own backyard, as well as get to know the owners and leaders of said businesses.

I'm a big-city business owner who relocated to Great Falls for a better quality of living. The Great Falls Chamber of Commerce, and Chamber events, are important networking opportunities for my business's growth, and the luncheons improve my understanding of local business and development goals. Chamber luncheons invite business leaders of all industries and roles into the same room to discuss or listen to our local and regional issues and needs, giving us an opportunity to all be on the same team. The times I have found the most inspiration or hope towards my community is when I attend Chamber events and feel the motivated energy from like-minded business colleagues, determined to help our local community succeed and grow. The Chamber of Commerce does far more than provide business support to individual businesses; they serve as a vital glue of community-building for our town and region.

One such opportunity for community-building was the February Chamber luncheon at Meadow Lark Country Club that featured a discussion about ‘The People’s Plan’ for Great Falls by the City Planning and Community Development Director, Brock Cherry. I looked around the room to a full house of 200+ Great Falls city and Cascade County leaders. I made note of the number of resources to wisdom, experience, and skills I was surrounded by, and took my seat next to folks from Touro COM, Downtown Great Falls, and TDS Telecom. I appreciated that the room had people of all ages, too. The elders that knew the why and how of the history and progression of Great Falls, and the young professionals eager to learn, grow their business and community, and contribute to the flow and story of what our elders have built. 

Mr. Cherry introduced the concept and process of developing ‘The People’s Plan’. At various milestones over the next several years, the City Planning Department aims to create an intentional city identity, and growth policy strategy. This plan has not been drafted, because it requires an extraordinary amount of public opinion research in order to determine what the townspeople even want. From there, the department and the committees responsible for aggregating and drawing conclusions from the information surveyed by the public will draft a homegrown strategy in order to focus money, time, and efforts towards managing the growth and identity of Great Falls in a way that maintains the integrity of the town. 

Long story short: towns need to continuously grow, money needs to come into a city, otherwise the citizens will eat their own tax resources. Therefore, if growth is necessary, but it also means change, how do we develop and grow to accommodate the needs of the town while still feeling like Great Falls?

How do we grow our economy without selling out? 

How do we grow with intention and stability, and not in the skyrocketing style of cities in the news headlines? 

How do we target the kind of people we want moving here? 

When we market Great Falls, are we spending our marketing budget in cities and places of people we want to have around us? 

I don’t want new money in my town for the sake of having money if that means it’s going to bring in a massive culture change. Because that’s what will happen. Intentionality will be critical -- whether it’s authentic messaging, the businesses we bring here, or the target audience – to ensure we didn’t just sell out Great Falls to some fat cats and douchebags hellbent on making Central Ave into a corporate, disembodied strip of businesses for the sake of profit. I've lived through the capitalist changes and investments in Fort Worth, Denver, and Austin. I know what can happen when people stop caring about the culture because the money is so good.

If we’re gonna add more businesses and see these newcomers around town and adopt them into our community, who and what do we want? As Mr. Cherry stated, ‘We want to evolve, and we want to set the standard’. What does that look like? Crossing one’s arms and resisting change and leaving the table doesn’t stop the change; it just stops any chance of control, say, or autonomy one may have over the change. 

Knowing what we want is a large question. One must have a solid identity to be able to give a clear answer. Do we know ourselves to answer that question? Who is Great Falls, and what ways can we make Great Falls a fun and entertaining town that still feels like whatever we are? While we aren’t the other tourist destination cities of Montana, we are the leaders of north central Montana. We are the big dogs from here to Bismarck. So what do we wanna do to be a faithful leader to these communities?

That’s what this plan is aiming to solve. Mr. Cherry is loudly commanding us: We have to protect ourselves, we have to grow ourselves, and through all that, we have to be ourselves. 

So, Great Falls citizens, what does that look like?’  

The Man™ doesn’t always ask what we want. 

This man is

So let’s tell him.

‘Be here if you want to be here.’ - Brock Cherry



bottom of page