The number of local job listings is staggering. The hospital alone has dozens, if not hundreds, of openings. Nearly every major employer in the valley is hiring, from bus drivers to engineers to servers. If you walk into any of those businesses and have a half-decent resume, chances are you will be hired on the spot. You may even be eligible for a bonus if you stick it out for a few months.
But there simply aren’t enough takers. The “great migration,” as it’s been called, where cramped, COVID-wary city dwellers moved to the suburbs and rural areas over the last year, should instead be called the “great uprooting.”
A growing population of remote workers is great in theory. It means a more educated and high-earning population is arriving in Montana, adding to the local tax base and diversifying our field of employees. Gov. Greg Gianforte even launched an initiative earlier this summer called “Come Home Montana” encouraging, among other things, former residents to “bring your remote job to one of our many growing, community-focused towns.”
Many of them did. And so did everyone else. In turn, demand far outweighed supply, and housing prices exploded. A growing number of migrants wanted the same access to the natural resources we have long been spoiled with. They wanted to live the life they had only imagined when scrolling through their respective Instagram feeds.
And that’s fine. No American should look down on any other American who wants to better their life in a new region or state. We’re all citizens of the same country and are each provided the opportunity to embrace new beginnings. With that said, the consequences of this migration are coming into sharper focus and will only worsen if they aren’t somehow addressed … if they can be addressed at all.
In the Flathead, not long ago, a dependable employee in the service or outdoor industry could work their way into a management position and make a decent living. They might have a short commute to their job from a more affordable area, but they could rent or buy a modest home. Today, that is increasingly difficult. And the fallout has now reached longtime locals and newcomers alike.
Ordering food or heading to one of our more popular restaurants is an exercise in patience. For one, the establishment may be closed because of lack of staff, which is often the case on Sundays and Mondays. There also may be no tables available or the wait may be too long.
And it’s not just the service industry. Everything takes longer. Going to Glacier? Repairing your car? Getting your haircut? Buying your groceries? Expect to wait, especially if you haven’t planned ahead.
Some of our best “essential” workers are leaving the area and the ones who remain are likely on the brink. An extraordinarily busy summer exposed an economy falling out of balance with no easy fix. While some have lamented the lack of affordable housing programs, they were rarely used and largely ineffective when they were in place.
Right now, there is a grassroots effort to create more units accessible to more people, especially in Whitefish. I applaud their efforts. Instead of asking more Montanans to come home, we should figure out more ways for them to stay.
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