After serving nearly 37 years as the executive director of the Anaconda Local Development Corp., Jim Davison plans to retire and to assume instead the role of “quality control” at his favorite Anaconda brewery, as Davison likes to say.
Meanwhile, an energetic, thirty-something entrepreneur and ALDC board member stands poised to take his place. The transition is expected to happen sometime this summer.
Following in Davison’s footsteps will be Adam Vauthier, who, among other things, has served as the ALDC’s board chair, is a founding member of the Anaconda Trail Society, and is a former member of the Anaconda-Deer Lodge Planning Board. He’s also been at the helm of Accelerate Anaconda, a community-development offshoot of the ALDC.
Vauthier comes to the position at just 32 years old, but Davison was actually younger than his successor when he took over as executive director in 1982.
Davison was just 29 at the time, and he surprisingly wasn’t nervous about having so much responsibility suddenly thrust on his shoulders.
“I was too young to be nervous,” Davison said.
A former buyer, warehouse worker and transportation superintendent for Atlantic Richfield Company, Davison had been laid off four times in one year by the company by the time 1982 rolled around. Each time the company had found new positions for him, but when it appeared the next position would be on the East Coast—“in Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey or maybe Manhattan,” he said—he decided to seek out a new career.
In his words, he was a “country boy” and didn’t want to leave Montana.
By all accounts, Davison should have been nervous when he assumed the leadership position.
Two years earlier, the Washoe Smelter had closed, while hospitals around the country were beginning to deinstitutionalize, causing state-run hospitals like those in Warm Springs and Galen to cut patient loads. It was a trend that would leave many in Anaconda fearful that the town would lose yet more jobs.
Meanwhile, the ALDC had challenges too.
A plastics company called Northwest Polymeric Inc. moved to Anaconda the year prior with the help of a $1 million loan.
The loan was given to the company by the now-disbanded Anaconda Task Force, which was charged with administering $3 million that Atlantic Richfield gave to the city after the smelter closed.
The ALDC took over as the administrator of the loan, but Northwest declared bankruptcy, leaving the organization holding the bag.
According to a 1990 article in The Montana Standard, “Northwest Polymeric officials boasted of defense contracts lined up to manufacture Kevlar helmets for the military. But those contracts didn’t come through, and the company and its promise of 500 jobs eventually went up in smoke.”
In the same article, Davison described the events as being symptomatic of “smoke stack chasing” – the desire to land large employers and replace what had been lost. As an alternative, Davison advocated for building a diversified economic base.
Speaking with Davison today, that message hasn’t appeared to change all that much.
He told The Standard last week that he sees the way forward as not being dependent on any one industry, and that the medical field, resource management, internet-enabled businesses and visitation will all be important players in the years ahead.
Davison said the landscape of economic-development in Butte and Anaconda looked very different in the 1980s.
In those days, discussions were mostly about survival. But flash forward to today, and people are talking about thriving instead of just surviving.
“There’s been a resurgence of people investing,” Davison said, taking note of small business success stories in Anaconda’s downtown district, the establishment of Tax Increment Financing districts, the successful recruitment of the manufacturer Intercontinental Truck Body Co. to Anaconda’s Arbiter Building, and the emergence of several engineering houses, whose remote work wouldn’t have been possible before the internet.
When asked what he likes about the executive director role, Davison responded, “It’s the funnest job around. It can be frustrating, but every day is different.”
Vauthier said what he’s learned by working alongside Davison is the importance of building relationships and using resources creatively.
“It was great being able to shadow him,” Vauthier said.
Like Davison, Vauthier didn’t plan on going into economic development when he graduated from college.
Nor did he envision himself becoming an entrepreneur.
Nonetheless, after graduating with a degree in web development from the International Academy of Design in Seattle, Vauthier co-founded a web-based marketing and advertising firm in Anaconda with a high school buddy.
Vauthier’s transition into economic development began with a handful of volunteer activities and contract work with the ALDC, which led him to become increasingly immersed in the organization.
In 2012, he started serving as the board chair of the organization’s Accelerate Anaconda group, and around six years ago he became a member of the ALDC’s board, eventually serving as the board chair.
During that time he also became involved with the ALDC’s popup shop initiative, which helped small businesses — many of them home-based businesses — attain short-term leases at various locations throughout downtown Anaconda.
With the help of scholarships from the Montana Economic Developers Association and the ALDC, Vauthier has completed coursework with the International Economic Development Council, which provides professional certificates in the field of economic development. Today, he continues to work in web-development through his company Tea & Lemonad Digital Solutions.
When asked about his vision for the ALDC, Vauthier said he’d like to help prospective employers move forward with their projects with greater ease, reducing the time and headache it takes to get something new off the ground.
Secondly, he’d like to concentrate on community development and quality-of-life issues. It’s one thing to create incentives for new businesses, he said, but it’s another to create an environment in which residents, company leaders and their employees want to live.
Last but not least, Vauthier said he wants to improve Anaconda’s online presence with digital marketing and stronger websites, seeing to it that more positive messages about Anaconda are out there in the ether.
When asked what he thinks Vauthier will bring to the table in his new role, Davison noted the Anaconda native’s experience in economic development and knowledge of Superfund and digital media. Lastly, he said Vauthier is “committed to the community” and has “fire in the belly.”
As for Vauthier, he said he applied for the job because of his positive experience with the ALDC.
“I got really passionate about the work that we were doing …. It’s really exciting when you know that you played some kind of role in helping a business expand or stay open, or you helped create another piece of (revitalized) downtown that helps this community become more liveable,” said Vauthier.
“I feel like this is a perfect fit,” he added.