HELENA (AP) – A $250,000 federal grant will be used to help figure out ways that Montana areas long dependent on the wood-products industry can make the transition to different economic foundations.
The U.S. Department of Labor recently awarded the grant to the Montana Department of Labor and Industry, which sought the money in November to help address changes occurring in the wood-products industry.
The money will help pay for brainstorming sessions involving county commissioners, business people, legislators, union leaders and others looking at economic restructuring. The work also will include collection of data to gauge job-market trends.
“It’s the first stage of bringing together all of the principal players to see where they think their region may be going and to move to a defined goal so we can target job training, economic development grants and an education component,” said Keith Kelly, the state labor commissioner.
Kelly said it is necessary to communicate with “leadership groups in western Montana, and ask “How do you make the adjustment? How do we train people in new fields? What can we do to support and complement these through colleges and colleges of technology?'”
As an example of retraining, Kelly said that construction jobs might be suitable replacements for wood-products jobs, with displaced workers learning construction trades at Montana’s colleges of technology.
Since 1990, the number of people employed by the wood-products industry in seven counties of western Montana has fallen by 32 percent, Kelly said. The counties are Lincoln, Flathead, Lake, Sanders, Mineral, Missoula and Ravalli.
Kelly said 65 percent of the Labor Department’s emergency grants in recent years have been used to help workers laid off from wood-products work.
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