By James Grunke
Six years ago, I set foot in a very different Missoula. Our economy was struggling to stay afloat amid a deep recession; job growth was not only stalled, but slipping.
Fortunately, our community leaders were united in their commitment to true economic development: job creation, job retention, creation of wealth, tax base enhancements and quality of life.
This month, the Missoula Economic Partnership celebrated its first half-decade of successes, and looked ahead to the next five years.
Already, MEP’s direct impact has led to the creation of 1,155 new jobs and $67 million in additional income in Missoula and Missoula County. Those businesses and industries have provided our community with $255 million in added output.
The Missoula Economic Partnership and its board of directors believe that measurement and accountability are key principles of economic development.
So our goals for 2016-2020 include a number of very specific targets, including a direct impact of 3,000 new jobs, $160.5 million in additional income and $525 million in added output.
How will we reach those targets?
The first step in business development is to identify target industries, or clusters, that make sense for Missoula. Clusters are a powerful magnet for business location and create diverse pools of skilled workers. They also attract new suppliers that congregate nearby for increased efficiency.
Clusters thrive on a steady stream of skilled workers, finance, infrastructure and a good business climate. Spin-off businesses started by experienced workers foster a competitive spirit that stimulates growth and innovative strategic alliances.
The Missoula Economic Partnership targets the following clusters for business retention and expansion, business attraction and business start-ups: information technology; advanced manufacturing; life sciences; warehousing/distribution; professional services; business support services/back office; creative industries; finance and insurance.
Most of Missoula’s job growth and capital investment come from companies already located here. MEP’s retention programs support businesses to prevent their relocation and to help them survive in difficult times.
Bringing new companies into Missoula also plays a key role in MEP’s economic development strategy. The decision to relocate or expand a business is complex and expensive. It involves the disruption of people’s lives and careers, all while creating new expectations (for the community and the business alike) that may or may not be met.
Entrepreneurs are the engines of the economy in every generation, and we are surrounded by them in Missoula. These are our friends and neighbors who take a business idea and turn it into a real business, creating goods and services based on new technologies or demands.
In addition, a robust workforce development and attraction strategy is essential. Missoula area employers cannot develop and grow their businesses without workers trained for specific jobs and industries.
Fortunately, we have many organizations working diligently to meet workforce needs.
The future of Missoula depends on each one of us.
The last five years saw considerable growth in our economy – in jobs, wealth, partnerships, and business retention and attraction. Importantly, we began to build a lasting plan for future growth.
The next five years will be even more critical. Each individual contribution will move us a step closer to realizing our vision of Missoula as a community of opportunity.
James Grunke is president and chief operating officer of the Missoula Economic Partnership. He writes a monthly column for the local media.