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Like I Was Sayin...
I envy the architects and engineers who are asked to produce renderings of what the future could look like, especially when they are allowed the freedom to present their vision with few limitations. Especially when they go big.

Often these drawings of new landscapes and grand structures are altogether improbable. The Kalispell Core Area Revitalization plan is a good example of that. CTA Architects Engineers depicted a downtown adorned with more trees and wider sidewalks in a bustling city that mixes retail, residential and entertainment. It’s ambitious and perhaps infeasible. But the alternative, setting a goal that is at once attainable and uninspired, is worse.

In a recent interview with Wired magazine, Larry Page, the CEO and cofounder of Google, spoke about why he aims for 1,000 percent improvement in his products when most companies are satisfied with 10 percent. To him, setting modest goals stunts growth.

“It’s natural for people to want to work on things that they know aren’t going to fail,” Page said. “But incremental improvement is guaranteed to be obsolete over time.”

His advice is to shoot for the moon. And that’s what Kalispell city officials should do as they study how to improve the heart of its city. Follow CTA Architects’ lead and consider transformative ideas rather than come up with excuses for why the project will fail.

The same goes for expanding higher education opportunities in the area. Flathead Valley Community College announced that it is exploring the possibility of expanding its four-year degree offerings. Right now is the opportunity for the school to take its own moon shot. Instead of simply offering a few new programs as a satellite school, make it a destination for in- and out-of-state students. Build more on-campus housing, expand the sports programs and resemble a university.

The chances of all this happening are slight. But FVCC President Jane Karas, who is widely respected and has overseen unprecedented growth, has the clout to make the case for Kalispell as a college town. And I hope she does.

What’s encouraging is that across the valley as the economy has modestly improved, local politicians and community leaders are no longer simply trying to minimize the fallout from the recession. Imagine these proposals being discussed just five years ago.

Now Columbia Falls, with manufacturing firms that have sprung up along the U.S. Highway 2 corridor, should envision itself as a city that attracts young innovators. Kalispell, which along with its core revitalization proposal is looking to build a rail-served industrial park to attract new businesses, should rethink what’s possible.

The worst that can happen is these best-laid plans fail spectacularly and nothing changes. But I commend those who think they should, who think our county’s 9 percent unemployment is far too high and who recognize the economy does not improve by simply hoping. Whether it’s a four-year school or a completely reimagined city, there is merit to what some may consider far-fetched ideas.

I’m old enough to remember when Google was simply a search engine company and, as Page told Wired, even that idea was panned by critics who contended, “You guys are gonna fail, there’s already five search companies.” They didn’t, but that’s not to say they never have. Google+, the social media platform, has struggled to compete with Facebook. Nonetheless, the company’s ideas have only grown in scale.

Now Page is working on wearable computer systems, driverless cars and even artificial brains. Google goes so big and sets its goals so high that many of its ideas, until very recently, would be considered crazy. But that’s the point.

“If you’re not doing some things that are crazy,” Page told Wired, “then you’re doing the wrong things.”
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