MEP sees healthy increase in companies looking to locate, expand to Missoula

Jenni Graff, the economic development coordinator with Missoula Economic Partnership, typically works with three or four businesses at a time interested in locating in Missoula. She’s currently working with 13. (Missoula Current file photo)

Companies looking to Missoula to base their growth or expansion are on the rise, and with new air service to Dallas set to launch next month, the flurry of activity has economic leaders feeling confident with the future.

“We’re seeing a pretty significant uptick in businesses looking to locate to Missoula,” said Jenni Graff, the economic development coordinator with Missoula Economic Partnership. “If we had a 100 percent close rate, we’d be looking at around 900 jobs. We know that’s not likely, but we’re proud to report that we’ve had some pretty significant successes this year.”

Already this year, two outside companies have launched operations in Missoula, including 4Cast – an Israeli division of Eltel Technologies – and ClassPass, which plans to fill 150 local jobs over the next two years.

Graff said Thursday she’s currently working with 13 other companies interested in locating or expanding to Missoula, with the bulk of them representing technology and manufacturing firms.

“Typically, we pretty traditionally work with between three and four companies at any given time, but right now I’m actively working with 13,” said Graff. “We’ve certainty seen an uptick in interest.”

Those companies are in different phases of research, though several have already scheduled a site visit in the coming weeks. Graff attributed the uptick in interest to a number of factors.

“I’m seeing an increase in businesses from the West Coast who are actively looking to move to an area that’s less expensive,” Graff said. “That seems to be a driving trend in a lot of the businesses I’m courting.”

In April, ClassPass CEO Fritz Lanman said he based his company’s move to Missoula in part by considering its affordability when compared to coastal cities that have long dominated the tech sector.

The cost of living and wage inflation driven by the likes of Google and Amazon have created what Lanman deemed “unhealthy dynamics” and a high employee turnover.

Graff said other companies are facing a similar dilemma, though other factors may be at play.

“Some of the business taxes in Washington, Oregon and California seem to be hitting a crux where they’re seeing leakages because it’s getting more expensive to do business there,” Graff said. “We’re trying to accommodate and capitalize on those opportunities. I also think the economy is strong, so businesses as a result are expanding, feeling confident and looking for their next steps.”

Next month, American Airlines will launch nonstop service from Missoula to Dallas/Forth Worth. Graff said the flight, which launches on June 7, opens up a new U.S market that could sweeten Missoula as a place to locate business.

“Just speaking to the Dallas flight, that’s opening up over 100 markets to Missoula,” said Graff. “A lot of companies look at access in and out of the market as one of the top critical location factors when they’re evaluating a new market. The fact that we opened up 100 new markets we can access will absolutely change the game for us.”