Lockwood Business Group members ponder its future

by Evelyn Pyburn-Originally posted in the Yellowstone County News. 

LOCKWOOD — Should the organization of the Lockwood Business Group continue?

That was the primary point of discussion during the group’s regular monthly board meeting on Tuesday morning. The group has struggled with attendance, especially from people representing the Lockwood business community, for the two years it’s been in existence. Those holding the group together have concluded that it’s time to decide whether the organization serves any worthwhile purpose for Lockwood business people.

Lockwood business people should be taking the lead in spearheading the group, said Taylor Brown of Northern Broadcasting, who is also the state senator representing Lockwood. Brown said, “I would like to see us dis-band the organization because the business people aren’t here.”

He went on to say that if they want to have “a selfish little community” where they “don’t care if kids die in the streets,” or whether the City of Billings does all it can to stop businesses in Lockwood from opening, or whether there is economic growth in Lockwood – “that’s fine, but I don’t have time to participate.”

“It has to be up to people with a business to decide,” said Brown, in suggesting that they hold a special focus meeting to which individual business people in Lockwood be specifically invited to state what they would like to see happen in Lockwood—what would be of value to them. “Not every town has a Chamber of Commerce,” he conceded.

Bob Riehl has been serving as the Lockwood Business Group’s chairman, in lieu of any other volunteer. But, as Riehl is quick to point out, he is not a businessman, and he is also committed to serving as chairman of the Lockwood Steering Committee. If there isn’t enough interest to sustain the business group, Riehl said, then perhaps just the Lockwood Steering Committee will suffice.

Some 10 to 15 business people have sporadically attended the group’s meetings, with some of them hosting the meetings with complimentary breakfasts at their places of business. Tuesday’s meeting was held at the new Lockwood Fire Station, where Chief John Staley hosted a pancake breakfast. The next meeting will be held at Warren Transport at 7 a.m. Oct. 6.

The meetings which were held at the various Lockwood businesses were usually well attended as attendees seemed to thoroughly enjoy touring the businesses and learning about them. The ability to network and find out what everyone is doing is a valuable benefit of the group, said Sue Vinton, who represented her family’s business, Vinton Construction Inc. She went on to say that it is in the best interest of their business to see Lockwood businesses grow, creating jobs and attracting new families to the area, for whom they can build houses.

Conrad Stroebe said that since 1980, every five or 10 years, there has been an attempt to form some kind of organization to represent Lockwood business people, but “then it just dies.”

Vu Pham, representing the Weaver Group/Warren Transport, said that he thought business people stepping up to support community improvements is a moral and ethical issue.

“Do you want intentional growth or rampant sprawl?” he queried. Most communities are shaped, long-term, by the business growth, said Pham.

Maybe they need to identify a project, he suggested.

An organization usually has more “impact” when dealing with political issues or talking to entities like the county commissioners, said Pham. The Lockwood Business Group doesn’t have much impact, yet, he said.

Such impact could be important for businesses when dealing with problems that require influencing governing boards or individuals, said Vinton. It could have been useful for Bretz RV in dealing with zoning issues. Vinton said she testified on behalf of Bretz RV regarding a recent zoning issue, and they were successful.

Brown agreed that a Lockwood organization could have immeasurable value to businesses when dealing with government, as in Bretz RV’s road blocks.

“The zoning commission was making their life miserable and costing them hundreds of thousands of dollars,” said Brown. Bretz RV & Marine is in the process of developing a new 44-acre center on Old Hardin Road.

An organized group could also be important when dealing with future legislative issues, said Brown.

Tom Miller, representing Pacific Recycling, said that “guilt” is a motivating factor and pointed out that one of Lockwood’s problems could be the fact that many of their business owners do not live in the community. His is a case in point. Miller said that he does not live in Lockwood, but “I work here. Pacific worked hard to bring a shredder into the community. We are definitely going to be part of the community.”

Perhaps a lot of business people think “leave me alone,’” he said. “That is the wrong attitude, of course, but that is maybe why they came here.”

Lockwood School Superintendent Tobin Novasio said, “You almost have to have a rallying point to bring businesses together. People will come if they see there is value.”

Miller said that maybe becoming part of the city would help generate more interest in Lockwood as a community. That is what seemed to happen to the Heights, he said. Once they annexed and got streets and utilities, retail growth seemed to take off. He pondered what it would take to get the city to consider annexing Lockwood.

Stroebe said that much of the reason that the Heights became a community was the establishment of a high school. Once Skyview was built, the community coalesced around it and that would happen in Lockwood too, he said.

Fire Chief John Staley said that he was puzzled at the lack of interest business people seem to have regarding the development of a possible industrial park in Lockwood. He said he thought that should be on every meeting agenda, with a persistent effort to move it forward. From the fire district’s perspective, they are very interested in it because it will build tax base for the future.

Staley said that he would contact several city officials to attend the next meeting to answer questions about what it would take to annex Lockwood. There was some joking that discussing possible annexation could certainly pack the house.

Vinton urged everyone to personally invite two or three other business people to the next meeting.

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