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An aerial photo of the Milltown area with the confluence of the Blackfoot and Clark Fork rivers in March 2018.

The $113 million spent on cleaning up the Milltown area is estimated to have resulted in more than 3,500 jobs, according to a 2009 study by the Montana Department of Labor and Industry. 

That breaks down into 1,240 full-time equivalent restoration jobs through the entire time frame of the project, plus an additional 2,323 full-time equivalent jobs in other industries.

The report also noted the indirect benefits such as cleaner land and water, higher property values, recreation opportunities and the attraction of new businesses like the KettleHouse Amphitheater on the Blackfoot River in the former mill site.

The amphitheater stage is where Harley Harris, the supervising attorney for the Montana Department of Justice’s Natural Resource Damage Program, spoke about the benefits of the restoration economy in Montana to a crowd gathered for the National Association of Government Labor Officials conference on Wednesday.

“In that 2009 study, they concluded that for every million dollars spent on restoration, there were approximately 30 or so jobs, full-time equivalent, created,” Harris explained. “Ten directly, and 20 indirectly.”

That number reached in the study of Milltown was corroborated by a University of North Carolina researcher who found restoration expenditures of $1 million create 33 jobs, Harris added.

“In comparison to the oil and gas industry, there’s five jobs created and in say, the pipeline industry, 21,” he said. “Another salient aspect of the restoration economy is it’s local. It keeps dollars in the local economies and it primarily benefits rural areas."

Harris noted that in a recent study by Ecotrust of Oregon focusing on restoration economy in southwestern Oregon, researchers concluded that 80 percent of every dollar spent on restoration work stayed in the local economy when the work was done, and 90 cents of each dollar stayed in the state of Oregon.

Harris’ talk was focused on states’ work to restore damaged or polluted natural areas, such as the Milltown Dam area. He said that before the dam was removed, very few recreationists used the stretch of the Clark Fork above Milltown. Now, guided fishing trips and floaters of all kinds can be found every day throughout much of the year in the area. The cleanup of polluted areas employs engineers, excavators, lawyers, scientists, researchers, administrators, gravel haulers and all kinds of laborers and experts.

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Harris noted that restoration work drives economic activity because people are attracted to clean water, hiking trails and unspoiled natural beauty.

“These types of assets are significant drivers of the new economy, where quality of life is the significant driver,” he said. “Telecommuting is possible, transportation makes it possible and really is kind of the basis of some of the remarkable growth you’re seeing in cities like Missoula, like Bozeman — places that are frankly near those assets and can provide them.”

The NAGLO Conference was held in Missoula this week and attracted Gov. Steve Bullock, U.S. Department of Labor Deputy Secretary Patrick Pizzella and a whole host of officials from all over the world to discuss workforce development and a broad range of other topics.

University of Montana President Seth Bodnar also addressed the high cost of a college education as a barrier to economic development and workforce growth.

“The world’s changing quickly and a healthy vibrant higher education system is absolutely vital,” he said. “But we do face some challenges. And I would say chief among those is access. And one of the biggest barriers to access is cost.

"Across the country we have seen a portion of state funding for public higher education decrease over the past few years, continuing a decade-long trend. We’re lucky here in Montana and grateful to the governor and his administration that Montana is one of only five states that has not seen decreased funding for state higher ed over the past decade.”

But, according to Bodnar, the general trend in the United States has been to shift the burden of cost to students and families.

“And the result is we’ve effectively narrowed that funnel through which citizens can gain an education, enter the workforce and become economically mobile,” he said. “We certainly understand we are facing scrutiny. Individuals are assessing the potential payoff of the financial sacrifices they’re making and rightfully asking whether it’s worth the investment.

"And while the research shows that completing a post-secondary degree or certificate is absolutely worth the cost, we can do a better job and must do a better job of shaping the public perception of higher education to be sure it matches the reality of the tremendous benefit that higher education confers.”

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