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James Grunke

James Grunke

Last month, I wrote about why metrics matter in both business and economic development. This month, I would like to follow up with how we use the metric analysis to shape our strategy in achieving our goals.

One of the goals of the Missoula Economic Partnership is the creation of 2,500 jobs over five years. In the first three years of existence, the Missoula Economic Partnership helped nearly 100 companies, existing, startups and new to the community, which created more than 900 new jobs in Missoula and Missoula County. These new jobs caused nearly 1,000 additional jobs that were either induced or indirect. To put this in perspective, over that time period nearly 3,500 new jobs were created in Missoula County, of which almost 60 percent resulted from companies MEP worked with.

The jobs MEP is focused on are primary jobs – that is, a job that exports a good or service and imports money, and that pays a minimum of $37,000 annually. Most of us remember when the tired Kmart closed and more than 50 people were laid off. Now, after $20 million of private and public investment, nearly 500 people will work within the same property when it is fully built out. While MEP certainly tracks this type of capital investment, is proud of the revitalization and is happy to have played a role, these are not the core jobs it was created to help develop.

MEP concentrates on five key industries: advanced manufacturing, creative industries, professional back office, wood products and renewables, and technology – these are the industries that have the greatest opportunity to be primary job creators and to increase wages in Missoula. All of these sectors are growing today. Harris Manufacturing, ALCOM, Consumer Direct, FilmSpur, LG Advanced Technology, Opportunity Resources and Agile Legal, to name a few, are all companies in these sectors poised for growth. These are the types of jobs we count in our metrics.

There are more people working today in Missoula than ever before, but underemployment continues to persist. Underemployment occurs when skills don't match up with need. Today, this presents an opportunity. Coupled with extremely low unemployment rates, pressure to have employees with the necessary skills will only intensify. We have hundreds of new jobs that will come online in the next six months – where will the employees come from? I wrote several month ago about the need for net in-migration and workforce development. All of which play a role in developing our economy.

The continued contraction of the labor market will drive up wages. But for Missoula to grow and develop sustainable family living wages, we must build the economic base that will support higher wage jobs. There is no reason that Missoula could not be the shining star of economic growth in the state of Montana in both per capita income and job creation – the reality today is that we are not. Metrics are the tools that give us the understanding of what is occurring in our economy and where we need to concentrate our efforts.

James Grunke is the president and CEO of the Missoula Economic Partnership.

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