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Growth policy to explore landscapes, livelihoods and communities

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Missoula County growth policy

Jobs and economic development will play a key role as Missoula County writes its new growth policy. 

Missoula County is home to roughly 112,000 residents, but in 15 short years, the population is expected to increase to 134,000 people, and many will likely settle in the Missoula Valley and its urban fringe.

With growth in mind, the county is moving forward to write a new growth policy. Over the past few months, participants have already identified open space, recreation and economic development as key issues.

Now, the process will look more closely at landscapes, livelihoods and communities, and the subcategories they include.

“We hope to have some concrete action steps with some performance measures or success indicators,” said Nancy Heil, senior planner with the county’s Community and Planning Services. “If the intention is to do one thing, how do know when we’re accomplishing that? We’re still in the process of formulating all that.”

The “livelihood” category includes economic growth. According to figures compiled in 2010, roughly 54,000 employees work in the county and earn an average yearly wage of $33,930.

The largest block of employees – 8,685 – work in health care and social assistance and earn an average of $39,700 a year. The group of top earners belongs to the county’s 277 corporate managers, who bring home an average annual wage of $61,500.

The group of bottom earners goes to accommodation and food service workers. While they’re 5,600 in number, they earn just $13,800 a year. Retail trade represents the county’s second largest block of workers at 7,640, but together they average just $23,990 a year.

“One of the questions we’re asking is what role the county can play in supporting good economic development,” Heil said. “Making sure our rural communities can stay economically viable is an important part of this. We’ll be asking some of those questions during this next phase.”


Landscapes also emerged as an important topic among participants. The category includes natural resources, agriculture and climate change.

The next planning phase will take a closer look at the issues and how residents feel about them, Heil said.

“Living in or around Missoula, our diversity of natural resources for both livelihood and our quality of life came up as important,” Heil said. “How do we protect the open spaces and natural resources that we value, and ensure that we’ve got ways for our communities to thrive as well?”

Statistics suggest that federal land comprises 50 percent of the county, while private lands represent roughly 34 percent. The study has already identified historic resources – such as the Ninemile Ranger Station and Lolo Hot Springs – that are important to residents.

It also mapped out soils of agricultural importance. Protecting the area’s resources will become more challenging as the county’s population grows, and Heil said a solid plan can help direct that growth as it comes.

“The goal is to recognize there will be more people in Missoula County,” she said. “We’re having a community conversation on where and how that growth occurs. The city is working on its own growth policy, and I think there will be overlap in the area of the urban valley.”

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