A growing pile of huckleberries to the news that Missoula experienced wage growth from 2016 to 2017; in fact, it was the only urban area in Montana to see wage growth speed up over that period. In 2016, wage growth in Missoula County totaled about $90 million; in 2017, it reached $115 million. Throughout Montana, the highest growth was seen in industries such as health care, tourism and technology — and in Missoula, the wage boost was also fueled by an ongoing construction boom.

This information and a slew of other relevant data were presented as part of this year’s Economic Outlook Series offered by the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Montana. The annual series, which presents the most up-to-date research on various facets of Montana industry in seminars held in nine different cities, came to Missoula a week ago and will wrap up in Havre in mid-march. Handfuls of huckleberries to the BBER and its sponsor partners for sharing timely expert analyses in different communities across the state year after year.

Frozen chokecherries to the enrollment freeze at the Kicking Horse Job Corps Center in Ronan — and a second, silent helping of chokecherries to the officials who are being tight-lipped about the reason for the freeze beyond a written statement, provided by a Labor Department spokesman who asked not to be named, that cited unspecified operational and safety deficiencies. The center, which can accommodate 177 students, currently has only 42. Both U.S. Department of Labor and Job Corps officials declined even to guess at when the freeze, which began this past August, might end. In the meantime, the center remains in limbo and, along with the nation’s other Job Corps training centers serving low-income youth, faces an uncertain funding future.

Warm and cozy huckleberries to all those who helped bring this year’s Project Community Connect services to more than 300 people in need last week. The event, organized by the Missoula At Risk Housing Coalition, represents a concerted effort from a host of local agencies to help homeless or near-homeless individuals connect with the local resources and services they need to get back on their feet. Thanks to volunteers and support from businesses and nonprofits too numerous to name, everything from dental care to pet vaccinations, haircuts, hygiene kits and copies of important documents were available at Zootown Church, while hourly shuttle buses ferried people from different areas of Missoula.

Chokecherry road hazards to Montana’s lax traffic safety laws, which earned a failing grade from the national Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety in its most recent report, the 2018 Roadmap of State Highway Safety Laws. The report ranks all 50 states according to the degree of traffic safety legislation in place to prevent drunk or distracted driving, protect child passengers and require the use of seat belts for all passengers. Montana was one of about a dozen states to receive a failing grade, even though the number of highway deaths in the state has been in decline; most recently, it was 186 in 2017 and 190 the year before. The state could improve its safety standing by passing laws to ban driver cell phone use, including texting, approving a primary seat belt law that covers all passengers, and requiring rear-facing car seats or booster seats for children, for starters.

Huckleberry vanguards to a pilot project starting in Missoula to better connect state public defender clients with local social services. The statewide project is a result of House Bill 89, one of those rare piece of legislation that earned unanimous support from both chambers of the Montana Legislature. The program in Missoula is only the first, with three more scheduled to launch in other communities later this month, modeled after a program first brought to the state by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. Instead of relying on public defenders to help their clients secure housing, employment, health care and transportation, among other services, a dedicated social worker will take on the responsibility for recommending local support and tracking the effectiveness of the program in reducing recidivism.