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Expect tight Montana labor market to get tighter, top economist
By TYLER CHRISTENSEN of the
With these words, Brad Eldredge kicked off a work
force seminar chock-full of statistics aimed at spurring local
employers into action.
George Bernard Shaw said, “The sign of a truly
educated man is to be deeply moved by statistics.”
Montana currently has an “unheard of”
2.8 percent unemployment rate, and the tight labor market is only
going to get tighter, said Eldredge, chief economist for the Montana
Department of Labor and Industry's Research and Analysis Bureau. He
was joined Thursday afternoon by Larry Swanson, director of the
University of Montana's O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West,
who agreed local employers need to take action now to stave off the
challenges associated with an aging population.
about 14 percent of the population is 65 or older. In fact, Montana
has the fourth-highest percentage of residents aged 65 and older in
the nation, more than some “traditional” retirement states, such as
Florida, which holds fifth place.
What's more, Montana's
65-and-older population is projected to double by 2027, while the
65-and-under population shrinks nearly 3 percent. Said Eldredge,
“Get ready for a lot of retirees in the next 10
Montana's labor force has grown every year for as
long as it's been tracked, he said. However, that will no longer be
the case by 2013, when the labor force will decrease for the first
time. Unless businesses somehow increase productivity to compensate,
the state's economy could take a dive, Eldredge said.
going to face a situation where our population will continue to
grow, but we're going to have less people to produce the services
and goods they'll need,” he said.
The good news is, the
market has ways of adjusting. If, for instance, wages in Montana
were to increase, the state might attract more workers from
elsewhere. If employers invested in certain tools, such as computers
and more efficient machinery, their per-worker productivity rate
Eldredge also cited an American Association of
Retired Persons study that found 45 percent of the nation's
55-and-older population expects to continue working into their 70s.
Employers might retain those workers if they make some changes, he
said. In addition to increased pay, they might offer health
insurance, flexible hours and other incentives.
The point is,
employers need to do something, and they need to do it
“Anything is better than nothing,” Eldredge said. “In
Montana, we might have to get creative and figure out how we're
going to keep more baby boomers in the work force, or how we're
going to attract more workers.”
Employers could develop
mentoring programs and start working with educational institutions
to develop curricula that fit their specific needs, he said. They
could also poll their employees to find out what they like about
their jobs and use that information to increase job satisfaction - a
proven retention tool.
They should also work to overcome
negative stereotypes about older workers. Some might believe that
older workers are slower learners, but that's just not supported by
the data, he said.
Things can also be done on a broader
scale, he said. It would help to tweak policy so that retirement age
and life expectancy were more closely matched. It might also help if
immigration were easier, because other countries have worker
Montana's economy is changing, and it's important
for employers - and others - to recognize those changes so they can
adapt, Swanson said. Increasingly, the state is moving away from an
economy rooted in natural resources and toward one based on a
growing human-resource economy.
In a human-resource economy,
Swanson said, effective education is essential. Work force training
needs to reflect the fact that employment growth is no longer
centered around a couple of large employers, he said. More and more,
it's spread among thousands of small businesses.
should consider sponsoring a “cluster study” of the area to identify
employment clusters according to their common needs. That would
allow community leaders to design education strategies specific to
Swanson also advocated regular
meetings involving representatives from every sector of Missoula,
from education to infrastructure. Those meetings would promote
information sharing and encourage more cohesive planning, he
Thursday's seminar was organized by the Missoula Job
Service Employers' Council, which regularly sponsors events on a
variety of topics aimed at helping local employers. In recent
months, it has been paying particular attention to the work force
issue because local employers are feeling the pinch from Missoula's
rock-bottom 2.6 percent unemployment rate, said Deborah Gass, who
helped organize the seminar.
Reporter Tyler Christensen can
be reached at 523-5215 or at email@example.com
city property partnership proposed
By ROB CHANEY of the
The Homevale property is an odd island of
grass in a sea of asphalt just east of Missoula's
Brooks-South-Russell intersection. It may grow into a novel
experiment in school-city partnership.
Missoula County Public
Schools owns the land, which sits across from its South Avenue
Business Building and the University of Montana College of
Technology. On Thursday, Mayor John Engen proposed using it to solve
some of the city's housing crunch.
“It could be used as a
teacher-recruitment tool, a first-time homebuyer project or some
other kind of income-qualified housing,” Engen said at the MCPS
property committee session. “It's centrally located, close to
services and a good transportation corridor. It makes sense for all
of us to figure out some kind of housing development
MCPS has been trying to decide what to do with some
of its properties that no longer serve as potential school
locations. The Homevale property once had a future as part of the
city's vocational-technical education services, but diverging paths
of UM and the school district have left it in limbo.
have pondered building additional administrative offices there, or
selling it for commercial development. Matters got complicated three
years ago when the city bought an easement through the land and
built part of its South Avenue diversion through it, splitting the
parcel in two.
School districts in other parts of the nation
have gone into the residential construction business to help rookie
teachers find housing in expensive communities. Missoula's education
leaders have talked about trying that here, although without any
concrete plans. Engen suggested the city might be interested in
building it, but more likely would work through a partnership with
MCPS and UM.
“Today I don't have any money to buy it,” Engen
said. “We just want to explore it.”
Figuring out property
challenges is a growing focus for MCPS. Superintendent Jim Clark
told the committee he may float some proposals for major changes in
school use as early as February. They include an idea to rebuild
Lowell Elementary School to include a kind of community center, with
offices for counselors and health workers, meeting rooms and perhaps
a second gym.
Another pressure point is the advent of all-day
kindergarten. Gary Botchek, MCPS director of operations and
maintenance, updated the committee on how many school buildings are
ready to handle the new program and which ones would need additional
Even assuming some extra programs like family resource
centers and counselors' offices might get moved or shrunk, Missoula
would still need five new classrooms at Franklin, Chief Charlo and
Lewis and Clark elementary schools. That could cost between $650,000
and $1 million, depending on how permanent the new buildings are
constructed. Botchek added those estimates could be low, as
construction material prices continue to increase.
future construction needs could change that picture too. Hawthorne
Elementary on the city's western edge may see a jump in enrollment
as several new subdivisions begin filling up. And Russell Elementary
has the potential to expand, which could allow the district to
eliminate aging Cold Springs Elementary and build a modern building
in the growing Maloney Ranch area on the city's southern
Clark stressed all those decisions would have to go
through lots of trustee and community review before any ground is
broken or sold.
Reporter Rob Chaney can be reached at
523-5382 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
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