The recession continued to recede in 2015, setting the scene for a year of comebacks and setbacks for the Flathead Valley economy. Here’s a breakdown of some of the main business storylines we followed in 2015.
Boards Join Kalispell Regional, North Valley Hospitals
In early November, the governing boards at both North Valley Hospital and Kalispell Regional Healthcare System announced that they had approved a collaborative affiliation relationship between the Flathead’s two hospitals. This means that North Valley Hospital will be under the umbrella of Kalispell Regional Healthcare, but will be its own entity, according to the affiliation agreement, with its own board of directors and foundation. Jason Spring, CEO of North Valley, said the affiliation agreement merely reaffirms in writing a collaboration that already exists between the hospitals.
Whitefish Businesses Migrate to Kalispell
In 2015, at least two prominent downtown businesses in Whitefish added new branches to downtown Kalispell: popular clothing store The Toggery and body care shop Sage and Cedar made new homes in Kalispell’s bustling, small-business retail area.
Silverbrook Subdivision Sold
Silverbrook Estates, a development on Kalispell’s north end, sold in October to a local construction company, highlighting another indicator that the recession is finally loosening its grip on the local economy. Former owner Alfred Mann sold the 325-acre subdivision to Marvin Galts and Brenda Wilkins, owners of Westcraft Homes in Kalispell, on Oct. 8.
From Soil to Table to Soil Again
This was also a great year for local entrepreneurs, such as Alissa LaChance and Rachel Gerber, the women behind DIRT Rich, a new composting and pick-up company in Columbia Falls. Their first customer was Xanterra, the concessionaire running the lodges and restaurants in Glacier National Park. The pair collected more than 21 tons of food scraps in just over two months.
Unemployment May Be Nonexistent in Next Decade
As Montanans continue to catch their breath in the wake of the recession, state economists see a new, pressing issue heading to Big Sky Country: virtually no unemployment within the next decade. State economists with the Department of Labor and Industry said a skills shortage will become a full-out people shortage as the population continues to age and there aren’t enough young people to fill in.
It was just one of multiple conclusions reached in the 2015 Labor Day Report from DLI, an annual report on the current state of Montana’s economy and projections for the future.
Canadian Dollar Remains Plagued
In September, the U.S. dollar was worth $1.32 in Canadian currency, the strongest the American dollar has been in at least five years. And while that may prompt more American spending in Canada, in the Flathead Valley, it will likely mean less spending from our neighbors to the north. The Loonie continued to sag through the rest of the year, with an American dollar pulling $1.40 in Canadian money at the end of December. Economists say the currency’s decline “couldn’t have happened at a worse time,” given the fall in oil prices and other commodities.
Timber Industry Has Promising Start, but Sputters
Beginning as a promising year for the timber industry in Montana, with modest gains expected as the housing industry continues to bounce back from the recession, 2015 lost a good deal of its momentum for lumber producers, while plywood and fiberboard production stayed strong. The domestic timber market hit another stagnant point, with market plunges in China and wildfires across the western U.S. throwing up roadblocks.
Real Estate Market Holds Steady
By the mid point of the year, it was clear that the real estate industry, while not exactly booming, was maintaining a comfortable pace, promoting cautious optimism among developers and real estate agents.
Construction Finds Its Legs Again
A surge of development projects spurred local construction companies back into business after spending years languishing in the wake of the recession. Most were busier than they had been in years, and had full schedules of projects to fill their entire year. The spiking growth was initially alarming to those who watched the bubble collapse in 2007, but city planners, developers, and real estate experts say the uptick was at a more measured, practical pace than the breakneck boom of the early 2000s.
Heat, Drought Hit Grain Harvest Hard
Extended heat and drought in the Flathead Valley hit dry-land crops especially hard this year, with farmers in July hoping to reap at least half of their normal harvest. CHS reported that grains and hay were only 50 percent of normal, and some farmers were reporting hay yields of just 33 percent of normal. The hay shortage proved to be bad enough to require hay be imported to the valley.
Crowdfunding Comes to the Flathead
Online sites that provide crowdfunding support – meaning a place where people can pledge money to fund certain projects – made a difference for several business projects in the Flathead this year, including the cork-and-porcelain Cortiça mug from a Whitefish inventor. According to Kickstarter, one of the online crowdfunding sites, Montanans have pledged $4,400,764 for 645 projects since 2009.
Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.
Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.