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Butte doesn’t see too many press conferences come its way.

But on Monday there was news — big news — as journalists, along with about 150 local and state leaders, gathered in the conference room at Butte Brewing Co. on East Galena Street to see the unveiling of one of the largest economic development projects to come to Butte in recent years.

The project is the National Center for Health Care Informatics’ $35 million healthcare training facility, which it plans to begin constructing in 2019 and open in 2020 on the southwest corner of Park and Arizona streets.

Dubbed the Praxis Center for Innovative Learning and Rural Healthcare Simulation Training Center, the project is expected to bring 73 jobs to the Mining City, an annual headcount of 3,000 to 4,000 students and the building of an 82,000-square-foot facility, replete with a training center designed to look like a rural hospital.

Monday’s press conference was standing room only, with most attendees seated but others lining three walls. The other wall was taken up by a huge, projected image of the planned center. The crowd included local and state officials, representatives for all three members of Montana’s congressional delegation and lots of supporters from Butte. Ron Davis, whose wife Shelly will be the center’s chief financial officer, broadcast the event live on his radio station KBOW.

NCHCI president Pat Dudley was the first speaker to address attendees, noting that the Praxis Center is a project more than 10-years in the making — one that was marked by faith, a dream and “dogged determination.”

“The word Praxis is an old Greek word and the word means reflective learning,” said Dudley, describing the center’s namesake. “Praxis may also describe a form of critical thinking that comprises a combination of reflection and action. The word absolutely embodies what we’re all about in this center.”

NCHCI Chief Executive Officer Ray Rogers, meanwhile, spoke on what the new facility could mean in terms of economic development.

“We anticipate that the day we open we’ll have somewhere around 70 jobs,” said Rogers. “We’ll be attracting a lot of new professionals to Butte. Young professionals hopefully with families.”

Joe Willauer, Butte Local Development Corporation executive director, told the Montana Standard that the Praxis Center is exciting from an economic standpoint.

“It’s obviously a ton of good jobs. It’s renovating a blighted piece of property that currently sits vacant except for one business. And it’s really the culmination of a lot of years of work. Especially for two guys from Butte who care tremendously about our community and want to do the best for our community. To see their dream come true is just incredibly exciting.”

Davis, who also owns radio stations KOPR and KGLM, said he broadcast the press conference live because he wanted to give listeners something to celebrate.

“It’s not often we get good news in Butte,” Davis said. “When you get a chance to celebrate something exciting, something new, jobs in our community and especially somebody investing in Uptown Butte, it’s huge.”

Several state and local officials gave messages of congratulations at the event, including Butte-Silver Bow Chief Executive Dave Palmer and Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney, who both spoke in the person. Sen. Jon Tester read a message on a video, while Sen. Steve Daines and Congressman Greg Gianforte had representatives read statements on their behalf.

“It’s really big for all of Butte but especially for the Uptown area because it’s going to be a breath of fresh air,” said Palmer. “I think it’s going to breathe new life into some of these older buildings.”

That’s because many out-of-town property owners will see the brand-new, $35 million center and the income it brings in “and they will start to take pride in their own buildings,” Palmer said.

The 3,000 to 4,000 who come annually for training, he said, “will be staying in Uptown Butte — anywhere in Butte — at motels and hotels, eating in Butte restaurants and buying Butte products.”

Don Sterhan, president and chief executive officer of Billings-based Mountain Plains Equity Group, said the project had a great mix of resources to get behind. The real estate and development firm is financing most of the $35 million in construction and start-up costs.

“This does have all the elements of a project that can be successful,” he said, including “a little bit of sizzle” and “good, fundamental economics.”

Dudley and Rogers say they wanted the project to be very “Butte-centric,” which is one reason they chose Butte-based Markovich Construction as their general construction contractor. Its CEO, Bill Markovich, said the center comes after several other recent additions to Butte, including the new Uptown parking garage and the waterpark that will open at Stodden Park this May.

“This is home for us,” he said. “This is where we have our children, our grandchildren, and now with the Praxis, I think it’s going to an opportunity for people who have never been here to come and live and work in Butte.”

Dudley and Rogers thanked several people during their speeches, ranging from architects to NCHCI board members.

But when it came time to thank family members, Dudley choked back tears.

“Faith can be described as the act of believing when it’s beyond reason to believe. That’s what they’ve done. Our families have always been there for us. They’ve been our rocks in more ways than one. And they’ve always had faith in us,” said Dudley.

After the conference, The Montana Standard caught up with Dudley’s daughter and wife, Brianna and Margaret Dudley.

“They’ve had a lot of up and downs and it’s now here, it’s reachable, it’s great,” said Margaret. “Determination has paid off.”

Noting that he hasn’t been able to work fulltime due to health issues, Dudley also thanked Rogers for picking up where he left off.

“Ray has punched this over the end zone. He took it to the end,” said Dudley.


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Business Reporter for The Montana Standard.

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