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Labor Day report: Montana's economy growing
Guest column

Labor Day report: Montana's economy growing

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Each year the Department of Labor & Industry releases the Labor Day report to share an overview of our state’s economic performance. As commissioner, I am pleased to announce Montana’s economy experienced growth over the last year, adding jobs and wealth for both businesses and workers.

Montana created 4,600 jobs and reported the fourth-fastest wage growth among states over the last decade. Over the last year, average wages increased by 3.2 percent, and all regions of the state experienced wage gains. Wages over the rate of inflation increased by 1.3 percent, meaning Montanans can afford more goods and services with their earnings.

The state continues to foster entrepreneurship and added 2,940 new businesses last year. These enterprises are critical to supporting Montana’s economy, as approximately 45,000 Montanans are employed by businesses created in the last five years.

Strong wage growth and slower employment growth suggests Montana’s labor markets are tightening and workers are in high demand. Businesses are addressing a shortage in workers through public-private partnerships to recruit young people into work-based learning programs. Continued collaborations and additional workforce training efforts can ensure workers are qualified for in-demand jobs.

The Department of Labor continues to focus on programs that address our workforce shortage. One of these, the Montana Registered Apprenticeship Program, is creating a pathway to stability and meaningful careers. Over the last five years, registered apprenticeships have increased by over 30 percent. There are 1,820 active apprentices today and 21 different apprenticeable occupations in health care alone. Women now comprise 18 percent of apprenticeships, compared to 3 percent in 2013.

Other training programs are building Montana’s workforce. One of these is HELP-Link, a program that connects Medicaid enrollees with training and employment services. This program removes barriers that keep low-income workers from fully engaging in the workforce. According to a recent report by the Bureau of Business and Economic Research, labor force participation has increased 6 percent among low-income workers.

Diversity in our industries remains one of Montana’s greatest assets and allows us to withstand changes in the economy. The healthcare industry contributed over $4.3 billion to the Montana economy, which more than offsets losses in mining, utilities and agriculture.

Montanans can look forward to future growth. The Department of Labor & Industry will continue to lead when addressing the worker shortage and other economic issues in Montana. Through Registered Apprenticeship and other workforce programs, the Department will stay focused on preparing people for meaningful careers and supporting industry driven partnerships. Together, businesses, workers and government can invest in Montana’s future and ensure our continued economic prosperity.

Galen Hollenbaugh is the commissioner of the Montana Department of Labor & Industry.

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