How have you fostered business growth in Missoula and how can you bring those benefits to the whole city, which has a lower average wage compared to other Montana cities?

In 2010 we didn’t have a cohesive, goal-oriented economic development program in the city of Missoula, so I worked with a private developer to found the (Missoula) Economic Partnership.

The goal of the partnership is to increase the number of jobs at a certain level, so the partnership doesn’t work with employers who don’t pay at least $15 an hour. We work with folks to grow their businesses, retool, expand (and) relocate. We also work with startups and we encourage startups. We work with some recruitment as well.

Today in Missoula there are more people working than have ever worked in Missoula before. There is more development investment happening today than has ever happened before.

There is a little bit of a double-edged sword, as now we have a tight labor market. We met (recently) with representatives from labor unions and the Department of Labor and Industry to talk about apprenticeship programs and some contracting programs to begin to meet this workforce need.

In 2010 we didn’t have a workforce problem and in 2017 we do. I would rather have the workforce problem than not. We’re seeing pressure in the labor market, we’re seeing folks who are having a hard time hiring, so we’re working pretty holistically both with labor in the private sector and the public sector with the University of Montana and Missoula College to figure out ways to get folks trained for good-paying jobs.

For example, as a function of all of the commercial development, there are a lot of good construction jobs today, and we don’t see an end to this level of growth anytime soon. So that’s good news. All of these (new) facilities have jobs associated with them.

We’re also seeing this interesting rise in the tech sector, these startup companies LuminAd, Hank Green’s stuff, Submittable, Warm Springs Productions, Audience Awards; we’re seeing innovators finding Missoula’s a great place to live and a great place to do business and they can do both and we’re really fostering that.

What we’re seeing is that, in the state of Montana, Missoula’s a bright spot for this entrepreneurial effort and for startups. That’s all pretty good news, I think, for us.

The benefit of all of that is, finally, post-recession, the tax base has grown to a point where we have alternatives to maintaining the level of service without increasing taxes. That expanding tax base and growth is good for everyone. 

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