Missoula’s economic leaders look to put workforce findings into action

James Grunke, president and CEO of Missoula Economic Partnership, said the organization will partner with others in the city to implement the recommendations of the new workforce study. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

The study is finished. So now what?

A week after unveiling its State of the Workforce report, the Missoula Economic Partnership is planning its next move to begin implementing the recommendations.

The study identified the challenges facing Missoula’s economic future as it relates to jobs and the ability of companies to fill them with qualified workers.

“There are some pretty solid recommendations about creating a coordinated workforce hub – a single point of entry,” said James Grunke, president and CEO of MEP. “The next step is trying to figure out which organization is most appropriate to be that center, and how we’d fund a position like that.”

MEP could take the lead role in establishing that point of entry, though other local organizations could also play a part, including the Missoula Chamber of Commerce. Creating a separate, outside organization to spearhead the effort is also an option, Grunke said.

“We don’t want to step on anyone’s toes,” he said. “We want to make sure it’s coordinated in the community. There’s high demand for workforce solutions, but you need a quarterback.”

The study, conducted over six months by Thomas P. Miller and Associates, included four action items intended to address the city’s workforce shortage, one that has resulted from slow population growth, declining university enrollment, housing costs and pay, among other things.

As a result, the study challenged local leaders to develop stronger ties with local educational institutions to fill jobs, and to identify key workforce development agents, including MEP, the chamber and Missoula Job Service.

Better coordinating with the state apprenticeship program may also be part of the equation, said Nicole Rush, the grants manager at MEP. Missoula currently has an apprenticeship program in accounting, which could serve as a model for other programs.

“Accounting students at Missoula College can apprentice with five CPA firms in Missoula,” said Rush. “They’re also working on apprenticeships in non-trade sectors, and we’re looking at how we can assist them with that. One thing we’re discussing internally is how we connect employers to different resources as part of our business and retention efforts.”

The study found a number of factors that could also play in Missoula’s favor, including its quality of life and educated workforce. To capitalize on that, the study urged economic leaders to develop a recruitment and retention brand that draws on the region’s natural beauty and quality of life.

Establishing a “welcoming concierge” system to connect job applicants, new hires and recent graduates with the city’s diverse offerings was also recommended in the plan.

“We had no interest in funding a study that was only going to be sitting on the shelf,” Grunke said.
“Our plan is to put this in motion. These solutions have to be driven by the private sector. If we can have active private sector participation, I’d mark that as a success.”

Grunke said action steps should become clear by the end of the year.