2016 Business Year in Review

2016 was a busy year for construction and tourism, with major changes to the timber industry and a fight for infrastructure on the horizon

By Molly Priddy
Construction of the Bloomstone subdivision near Kidsports on May 19, 2015. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

North Kalispell Continues Rapid Growth

Several new commercial businesses broke ground or opened in 2016 on Kalispell’s north side, many in the Spring Prairie development adjacent to the Kidsports Complex.

Now under construction, when it’s completed, Hobby Lobby will be the largest commercial anchor site, at 55,000 square feet, in the fourth phase of Spring Prairie.

The new store will join a growing list of businesses moving into the development. SpringHill Suites by Marriott opened in the spring. An initial site plan has been submitted for a one-story 8,100-square-foot building at the corner of Old Reserve and U.S. 93 where multiple businesses will reside. Krispy Kreme Donuts, Costa Vida Fresh Mexican Grill and Mattress Firm are also signed up as new tenants.

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Infrastructure at the Legislature

The state’s infrastructure needs, and the funding to take care of them, seem to be likely candidates for another major issue in the 2017 Legislature, which begins in January.

At the end of April, Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat, introduced his new $200 million plan for infrastructure improvement throughout the state. Infrastructure bills in particular have become bones of contention at the last two legislative sessions.

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Changing of the Guard at Glacier Bank

Glacier Bank announced that it was seeking a replacement to transition into CEO Mick Blodnick’s chair, winnowing the list and eventually selecting Randall Chesler, who was working at CIT Bank in Salt Lake City at the time.

The bank created the president title and position for Chesler, and he started working in Kalispell in August 2015, one day after overseeing the close of a $3.4 billion deal for CIT to purchase OneWest Bank in Pasadena, California.

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Whitefish Resort Tax Surges with New Lodging Accommodations

Resort tax collections were up by 70.53 percent, or $145,428, this June compared to June 2015, when the 2 percent tax was in place.

The percentage point increase, which took effect in July last year, accounts for much of the increase, but this year’s addition of a new Hampton Inn also prompted collections on lodging to increase dramatically — from $39,483 in June of last year to $55,835 for June of this year, or a leap of 41 percent.

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Summer 2016 Boomed with Tourists, Development

Glacier National Park had a record-breaking visitor count this summer in what was the National Park Service’s centennial celebration: June had 429,909 visitors compared to 414,671 the year before; July had 818,481 compared to 689,064 in 2015; and August drew 736,868 visitors to the park, a major increase over the wildfire-filled August 2015, when 579,007 visited.

Kalispell’s residential and commercial development experienced a similar explosion, with 121 new residential and commercial building permits issued in the first 10 months of the year, with 105 in residential and 19 in commercial. Residential permits, which included 70 single-family homes and 35 townhouse/duplex projects, totaled $20 million. Commercial projects hit about $80 million.

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Continual Growth for the Tech Industry

According to the second annual report on Montana’s high-tech industries, released by the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Montana in February, high-tech wages comprise about 5.2 percent of the state’s total wages, and those wages are double the overall average and higher than all but three of the state’s industries.

According to the survey, HTBA members expected to add 940 new jobs in 2016, representing a 19.3 percent increase. The average salary for HTBA businesses is $56,800, and those businesses expected to increase wages by 5 percent in 2016.

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Weyerhaeuser Absorbs Plum Creek as Merger is Completed

Seattle-based Weyerhaeuser (pronounced wear-howser) officially merged with Plum Creek on Feb. 19, forming the largest private owner of timberland in the U.S, with more than 13 million acres, including 880,000 acres in Montana. Weyerhaeuser purchased Plum Creek for $8.4 billion and shareholders for both companies approved the deal.

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Columbia Falls Gets First Major Hotel

The first hotel in Columbia Falls officially went from dream status to physical, three-story, 64-room reality in March.

The Cedar Creek Lodge is one of several major projects from local developer Mick Ruis, who has announced plans for a revitalization of sorts for Columbia Falls’ business sector. Along with the hotel, Ruis intends to build a pie factory, a steakhouse sports bar, apartment or condominium complex, and potentially other projects.

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Kalispell Regional Healthcare, North Valley Hospital Finalize Affiliation

The two largest health care providers in the Flathead Valley transitioned to a formal affiliation they said would create a unified and robust medical organization serving the region.

Kalispell Regional Healthcare, a growing nonprofit corporation comprised of the local hospital and other services across Western Montana, finalized its partnership with North Valley Hospital Whitefish in May.

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Weyerhaeuser Announces Closure of Two Mills

Weyerhaeuser, the company that bought Plum Creek in February, announced it would close two of the mills operating in Columbia Falls, putting roughly 100 people out of work.

Blaming the closures on the ongoing log-supply shortage, company officials said the decision was difficult but necessary, and denied that it was part of a blueprint for consolidation drawn up when Weyerhaeuser absorbed Plum Creek earlier this year.

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Coalition Files Petition Against Canadian Imports

A month after a 10-year trade agreement on lumber from Canada expired, a coalition of U.S. lumber producers has filed a trade complaint over those imports from our northern neighbor.

The U.S. Lumber Coalition filed the petition with the federal Commerce Department and International Trade Commission on Nov. 25, seeking duties imposed on Canadian softwood lumber that the coalition says is dumped into the U.S. market.

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