The Flathead Valley has a lack of affordable housing, broadband Internet options and adequate daycare services, according to a new report recently released by Montana West Economic Development.
The 53-page document, known as the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy, paints a picture of Flathead County’s economic landscape, highlighting the local strengths and weaknesses as well as opportunities and challenges, based on public input.
MWED, the local economic development authority, spearheaded the creation of the new report, which is updated every five years as a tool for identifying public sentiment and steering public and private investment and leveraging grants. Past reports have shined a light on the valley’s support for the U.S. Highway 93 Alternate Route and renovations along Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park.
“I really want folks in all the different communities across the valley to read (the report) and get excited about it and recognize that it’s a plan for the future,” Jerry Meerkatz, president and CEO of MWED, said. “This is a way to get involved.”
Earlier this year, MWED hosted several public meetings to craft the report. More than 100 people participated in the meetings and another 142 responded to an online survey. The goal of the strategic plan is to assess the strengths and weaknesses of local communities, analyze the local workforce and key industry sectors, and propose initial projects and public works that could increase economic development.
“We want to see the communities start to have these conversations and come together with excitement about the plans and then get some action items going,” Meerkatz said.
“This allows us to work toward a goal and see it come to fruition.”
The report identified a lineup of strengths and opportunities that make the Flathead Valley shine, including abundant outdoor recreation opportunities and tourist amenities. The growing health-care system and Flathead Valley Community College were also identified as key strengths.
Economic development is flourishing across the valley, which punctuates the need for sound strategy and a unified community vision, according to MWED staff.
As far as challenges, a few lingering issues rose to the forefront once again. Flathead County’s lack of affordable housing and skilled workforce are key needs, as are the low-paying and part-time positions due to a seasonal economy, according to the report. Aging infrastructure, such as roads and sewer, were also labeled as worsening challenges plaguing the valley.
New to this latest report is also a growing need for adequate daycare services to accommodate families at non-traditional times.
Kim Morisaki, business development and special project director at MWED, said the lack of flexible daycare options is rippling into the workforce as more families are choosing to keep a family unemployed because the cost of daycare and the lack of available times late at night or early in the morning can be prohibitive.
“There are people who could fill some of these jobs if they had dependable daycare,” Morisaki said. “There is a business opportunity there.”
Another relatively new issue that emerged from the community was the need for enhanced Internet connectivity. The options for broadband Internet and fiber optics are few and far between in this corner of Montana, and Morisaki believes increasing Internet efficiency could help both new and existing businesses grow.
“We as a community should take some time and look at what other communities are doing,” Morisaki said.
“This could support the tech industry and support business in general.”
Outdoor recreation/Natural beauty
Workforce with strong work ethic
Quality of life
Flathead Valley Community College
Kalispell core area
Glacier Rail Park
Lack of affordable housing/workforce housing
Low-paying part-time jobs
Sprawl/Strip development/Unregulated growth
Remote/Long distance from major markets
Slow internet/Lack of broadband
Lack of workforce to fill skilled positions
Lack of adequate daycare services