By Martin Kidston/Missoula Current
After years of strategic planning and growth in the home health-care market, Consumer Direct cut the ribbon on its new national headquarters office in Missoula, signaling what the company’s owner and board chairman described as the first step of things to come.
On Tuesday, company dignitaries joined employees in opening the new $23 million headquarters, one that enables Consumer Direct to consolidate its four Missoula locations into one facility.
The ribbon cutting was followed by a monthly gathering among Missoula Chamber of Commerce members.
“We believe Montana is a unique place for us with a great workforce,” said Ben Bledsoe, president and CEO of Consumer Direct’s family of companies. “We’ve had immense success recruiting people to work in our administrative offices as caregivers and nurses. This community and the people you find here, they fit perfectly in our company and culture.”
Bill Woody, a majority shareholder in Consumer Direct and chairman of the board of advisers, echoed those sentiments, saying bricks and mortar are made possible by employing good people.
“In some of those states, we struggle to find the quality of worker you find here in Missoula,” said Woody. “I think people gravitate here for the quality of life, not because they have to be here.”
Consumer Direct employs around 250 workers in Missoula, bringing its new facility to near capacity. Woody said the company may consider a second office building if the need arises. The company owns roughly three acres south of Howard Raser Drive.
“It seems like as soon as we get something built, we outgrow it,” he said. “Knock on wood, we’ll probably be on the other side of the street before too long. We only have about 50 spots left in this office and then we’re pretty much done. The occupancy was built for 300.”
Despite the company’s rapid growth and its future plans in Missoula, Woody said he considered several other states when looking to establish a national headquarters, including Boise and Denver.
While there are benefits to locating in Montana, he said, the state’s Department of Health and Human Services – and Montana’s partisan politics – continue to challenge the company’s potential for growth within the state.
Among the issues, Woody named state cuts to caregiver wages and a low reimbursement rate for skilled nursing services. The later prompted the company to cancel a contract for skilled nursing services for people with developmental disabilities in Montana.
“We’re not reimbursed enough through Medicaid to find caregivers or nurses,” Woody said. “I seriously considered moving it (headquarters) to another state that’s more business friendly. With regard to Health and Human Services, it’s not the best state. It’s one of our weaker performers.”
“But at the end of the day, we all live here and we’ve got the momentum,” Woody added. “We’re here because we like Montana, not because it’s the best place to run a business. Montana needs to work on that, very hard.”
While challenges linger on the caregiver front in Montana, Woody – a University of Montana graduate – said Missoula’s access to quality white-collar workers remains strong. The new office building has already improved the company’s internal communications.
Nationally, Consumer Direct serves 16,000 clients through 25,000 direct support workers. Sister companies are located across 14 states, most of them in the western U.S.
“We’re looking forward to using this for better communication,” said Woody. “We’ve already seen it happen where everyone’s a lot happier and problems are getting solved just by walking down the hall, not sending an email. You know how those can escalate due to miscommunication.”
Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney lauded the company’s decision to stay in Montana, noting it could have located its new headquarters in several other states.
“They are committed to the city of Missoula and the state of Montana,” said Cooney. “It’s one of the reasons why the state of Montana was happy and proud to partner with them to get this taken care of it. This will be the beginning of a wonderful development out here, and I think it will happen fairly quickly.”
Contact reporter Martin Kidston at firstname.lastname@example.org