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From left: Jenni Graff of the Missoula Economic Partnership, Brigitta Miranda-Freer of the Montana World Trade Center, 4Cast CEO Nissim Titan and Meir Harel of 4Cast. The MEP played a crucial role in attracting the Israeli tech company to Missoula.

Missoula’s economy is roaring, with public and private development breaking records the last several years.

But there are deep-rooted, significant problems to overcome if the goal is to boost the quality of life for all citizens. And there’s a job opening for someone with the right skills and ambition to tackle those obstacles.

The Missoula Economic Partnership has officially announced it is actively looking to hire a new executive director to lead the organization “through a strategic planning process to set priorities and goals for the next five years.”

The MEP, an economic development organization funded by both private contributions and $100,000 from the City of Missoula, is currently being led by interim CEO Jeff Fee, a former hospital executive.

Former CEO James Grunke resigned in January, and the organization waited until a private consulting company called Garner Economics finished compiling a detailed report on the economic development challenges and opportunities facing the MEP and the region.

According to Lindsey Wallace, the business and communications manager for the MEP, the report helped to inform the search for new leadership by “identifying strategic objectives and the skill set required to implement that strategy.”

Scott Burke, the MEP board chair, said the board of directors agrees with the recommended skills.

“This set of recommendations offers an exciting opportunity to identify a new leader who can advance MEP to a higher functioning level as an organization and help shape a vibrant economic future for our community,” he explained.

The board has formed a search committee and will accept applications for the position until Aug. 10. Wallace said the committee will focus on local candidates with strong experience and connection to economic development in Montana, and hopes to make a hiring decision by early fall.

The MEP says the desired qualifications include a bachelor’s degree in business, public policy, social or natural sciences or other related fields, a master’s degree in business administration or a related field, a minimum of 10 years of experience in an executive-level leadership capacity, and an intimate knowledge of the Montana economic development landscape.

Grunke, the former CEO, lived in Boise, Idaho, with his family and commuted to Missoula to work during the week.

The Economic Realities report compiled by Garner Economics listed a wide variety of problems the authors say Missoula needs to solve in order to become more attractive to high-paying businesses. For example, Missoula’s poverty rate of 16.5 percent is higher than both the statewide average of 13.3 percent and the national rate of 14 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The report also noted that the composite Cost-of-Living Index for the City of Missoula is 103, compared with 97 for the state and 100 for the United States overall. The high cost of housing here is the primary factor that inflates the cost of living, as the median sales price of homes here have risen by roughly 30 percent since 2010 while wages have not kept pace.

Overall, the average earnings per job in Missoula County were $38,755 in 2017, which is 25.9 percent below the national average. Earnings in the county are below national averages for all major employment sectors, with the exception of agriculture, forestry and fishing and hunting.

Garner Economics analyzed 53 community factors that could be an impediment to attracting or retaining private investment as part of the assessment — things like availability of skilled industrial workers, and broadband speeds. The report found that 19 are considered an asset, such as the cost of labor, and 14 were considered challenges, such as the relatively high property taxes.

Twenty factors were considered neutral, including the availability of adequate medical facilities and the availability of apartments.

A full job application for the executive director position can be found at

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