Grunke Column: Missoula Businesses Need All Skill Levels of Workers

I was recently called by a local television reporter who told me two national chains that were set to soon open operations here in Missoula were having difficulty meeting their hiring goals, and he wanted to know if this was due to too many businesses opening, or was it due to too low of unemployment.

Not an hour earlier, a local business owner had voiced her frustration that she couldn’t find a graphic artist, and without filling this position, she could not grow her business or take on more work.

This story is being echoed throughout our community and for all levels and skills of employees.

Clearly, our workforce skills and talents are not lining up with the needs of our employers. I know that I have written around this theme in the past, but it is the single largest obstacle we are facing to grow and expand our economy. It isn’t, however, enough to simply identify the problem, but to also identify the solution or solutions.

Workforce development is the next wave of economic development.

The overwhelming opinion of the private sector is that businesses grow and prosper where there is a talented, well-suited workforce. Creating excellent workforce development systems through sector strategies leads to the retention, expansion, and attraction of jobs.

Working with key industries through sector strategies builds new opportunities for employment. Targeting leading industries provides focus, and ensures that jobs are available to those who go through the process of training.

When we are working with businesses looking to expand into Missoula, they tell me their priorities, which are no different than the needs of existing businesses, are as follows:

• Educated workforce – Can they hire a local workforce that has the basic skills, can be readily   trained for production, and pass a drug test?

• Talent – Are there other local firms that have decent talent and is there a higher education group that they can work with to create career tracks – both management and technical – for their people.

• Community – If they have to recruit talent, will they come to Missoula? What is the status of the     schools? Where will they live work and play?

We have been spending a lot of time thinking about what are the best strategies for the Missoula Economic Partnership to complement the workforce development activities that are already occurring.

We are focusing in on a robust workforce attraction plan for our ongoing efforts. These activities could include customized workforce recruitment assistance for area employers, in particular around our targeted industries that hold the greatest promise for high-paying, quality jobs, executive community orientation services, trailing spouse/partner placement and detailed relocation information.

Part of the answer for the reporter’s question or the business owner’s frustration is we simply do not have a large enough labor pool to meet the needs of a growing economy, and this is regardless of the levels of skills needed.

It is clear that for both our community and our state, we simply cannot produce on our own the necessary workforce to fuel and grow our economy – we must have net in-migration.

But it isn’t just bringing new people to Missoula – it is also bringing people back. If you have a son, daughter, friend who have left Montana, it is time to invite them back. Opportunity exists here for all levels of skills.

James Grunke is the president/CEO of the Missoula Economic

Missoula Economic Partnership | 500 N. Higgins Ave. | Suite 300 | Missoula, Montana 59802 | P: 406.541.6461 | F: 406.541.6464