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Missoula making small gains on the jobs front; state of the workforce study pending

Construction crews continue to make headway on the Tech Campus planned by Cognizant-ATG in Missoula’s Old Sawmill District. ATG will graduate its fourth class from the University of Montana this month and will employ most of the graduates. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

Despite the pandemic, economic leaders in Missoula continue to report small gains on the jobs and employment front and are completing a state-of-the-workforce study, which is set for release this spring.

Nichole Rush, the grants administrator with the Missoula Economic Partnership, said a contract between MEP, the University of Montana and the Montana World Trade Center, among others, was recently renewed for its third year.

The contract supports workforce development in the bioscience industry.

“The bioscience industry is growing a lot in the wake of Covid,” Rush said. “I just completed our annual report for that program, and across the state of Montana, a lot of jobs were added in bioscience and a lot of new businesses were started.”

The $500,000 annual award from the U.S. Small Business Administration was one of seven issued nationally in 2019. The funding helps promote the work taking place within Montana’s bioscience industry to a wider national audience.

It also includes a workforce component.

The program has looked to the success of UM’s collaboration with Cognizant-ATG, which launched a program in 2017 to train students for current and future jobs within the company.

On Thursday, Rush said ATG is set to graduate its fourth class. It has employed most of its graduates over the past few years within the company, making it one of the Missoula’s largest single employers. The company is currently constructing a new tech campus in the Old Sawmill District.

“They are graduating their fourth (All In Missoula) cohort and have hired 27 total people out of the cohort,” Rush said. “Everyone is holding steady with their current employment count, pretty much. It’s a lot slower to add new jobs than most companies were projecting before the pandemic. The exception is ATG.”

MEP is also working with UM and Missoula College to help students develop certain foundational skills to make them more employable, including career readiness. Area employers are offering insight as MEP and its partners develop the curriculum.

“All of this leads into an ongoing study we’re doing on the state of the workforce,” Rush said. “We did that study back in 2018, and now we’re doing a new workforce study that looks into the demand for skills and occupations, figuring out how we can grow our workforce and what strategies we need for workforce development in Missoula County.”

Rush said MEP will also meet with the new leadership at the Montana Department of Commerce as it continues applying for local planning grants. MEP has not received affirmation of its latest grant requests for two new facilities being considered by the All Nations Health Center and Diversified Plastics.