Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) Citing changes over the last decade, Missoula County may take a fresh look at its industrial lands and whether they're positioned to meet future economic needs.

Andrew Hagemeier, a land use planner for the county, said county staff are set to embark on an update to the county's growth policy. If funding is found, it may grow to include an industrial lands survey.

“Back in 2014, we did a close examination of all the industrial lands in the county, including the city,” Hagemeier said Tuesday. “We looked at how ready they were to accommodate development, their growth policy and zoning designation. We looked at absorption rates, or how fast these industrial properties were being purchased and developed.”

But much has changed over the last 10 years, county officials said. The industrial park near the airport is full and was recently annexed by the city. Two major mills have closed in the last few months. The global pandemic also shifted old economic patterns and new technology is booming.

Hagemeier said it makes sense to take a new look at the county's industrial lands as the county initiates the update to its growth policy.

“They're going to be doing a lot of the same demographic and economic work the industrial lands survey did in 2014,” he said. “We have this opportunity to add on with this industrial study. There's an efficiency there.”

Before the pandemic, the Missoula Economic Partnership and other economists suggested that Missoula County's lack of industrial lands could serve as an economic drag.

But since then, the county has brought a number of new industrial districts online. It approved a new industrial subdivision in Bonner in 2023 and has adopted two new Targeted Economic Development Districts at the Wye.

Hagemeier said a new industrial lands survey could boost the success of those new districts.

“It's intended to help those districts position themselves better for the future of industrial land use and understand what their capacities are and what they're absorption rates are,” he said. “It's going to benefit all of Missoula County and the city. You can't just study industrial lands in those little boundaries. That's just not how the economy works.”

Funding has already been secured to begin the updated growth policy. The county may look to secure funding from one of its Targeted Economic Development Districts to expand the work to include the industrial lands survey.

“They'll have a consultant look at the housing component of the growth policy and the economic component of the growth policy. We'd just do an addition to that scope,” Hagemeier said.