Despite the city’s official website that states Whitefish is a “rapidly growing retirement/resort community,” the town remains “special” largely as a result that families, small businesses and dogs are welcome. Unlike the resort destinations of Vail or Jackson Hole, Whitefish is a town where local people can still work, play and live. As it has been for three generations in my family, I am proud that Whitefish remains a great place to raise kids. There is pressure on families, in part due to relying too heavily on the tourism industry to sustain our identity. The signs on the wall of businesses gone bust inside the Great Northern Bar and Grill are a testament to the volatility of a monolithic economy during a bad snow year or a rough fire season. Lower paying jobs, coupled with high housing costs, have caused an exodus of families as they seek affordable alternatives.
Given that the gap between housing prices and service wages will likely remain, it is imperative that we look at diversifying our economy and creating better paying job opportunities to keep working families in Whitefish. As president of a business development firm, it is my experience that companies wishing to start, relocate or grow a business most often consider the following three priorities when selecting a location: The skill level of the available workforce, the existence of a business friendly environment, and the quality of K-12 education.
For those who value keeping Whitefish as a place where families can afford to stay here, the importance of passing this year’s school bond cannot be overstated. In a building were little has changed since my parents attended Whitefish High School during the 1950s, it is time to build for the future. The proposed bond is not just a building, it is a needed technology center that will provide teachers and students the tools necessary to complete in the global economy. Without access to technology, our educational system simply cannot adequately prepare our students for the future. We asked the school board to be innovative and find ways to reduce the cost, and it did. We asked the city to prioritize education over a new City Hall, and it did. We asked our city officials to pledge to place education and our economy over politics, and they did. It is now time for the citizens of Whitefish to stand together and vote yes to keep families here and businesses thriving.
Sen. Ryan Zinke
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