At the Montana “On the Rise” Economic Summit hosted by U.S. Sen. Steve Daines in Bozeman last week, company culture, housing and workforce shortage challenges dominated discussions among Flathead Valley business leaders.
In addition to speakers like Robinhood co-founder Baiju Bhatt and Max Baucus, a longtime U.S. senator from Montana and the former U.S. Ambassador to China, Flathead-based leaders in the technology, film and manufacturing industries shared their perspectives on the shifting business climate locally.
GL Solutions CEO Bill Mosely relocated his software company to Kalispell last year from Bend, Oregon, where the median home prices were unaffordable for his employees and the local government was too overbearing for his business.
Mosely was attracted to Montana’s business environment and lower taxes and he was impressed with the business community, where local officials from Montana West Economic Development (MWED) and the city of Kalispell welcomed the relocation and the high-paying jobs he was bringing.
“One message that came out of the local business community was they wanted to see a future for their children,” Mosely said.
With 50 employees within the company, Mosely said he’s been impressed with Montana’s local workforce and his new employees have a strong work ethic. Kalispell also created a desirable location to relocate employees, he said.
Since moving from Bend, where median housing prices were near $700,000 before the pandemic, he says it’s important to solve the Flathead’s housing crisis and supports deregulation for developers and zoning.
“Housing costs affect labor costs,” Mosely said. “It affects your entire community – housing is a critical issue.”
At Nomad Global Communication Solutions, CEO and President Will Schmautz has struggled to find enough employees for his business that manufactures mobile incident command centers. The 75,000 square-foot manufacturing facility in Columbia Falls has hundreds of employees but they need about 200 more, Schmatuz says, and they are working to create an attractive company culture. Since all of Nomad’s clients are out-of-state, he says it’s challenging to find employees who want to leave Montana to operate services outside of the state
“We have a deep need for (employees) to leave Montana,” Schmautz said.
At S&K Technologies, Inc, a Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes-owned company, CEO Chad Cottet also emphasized the importance of building a strong company culture and investing in remote worker training.
“We have to pay more but we also have to be part of a greater culture so they stay and they work harder and deliver and that the company delivers for them,” Cottet said.
Professionals from the film industry also appeared at the summit, with producers from the “Yellowstone” television series and MEDIA Coalition of Montana (MCM) co-founder Lynn-Wood Fields emphasizing the importance of bringing high-wage film industry jobs to the state.
With MCM, Fields promotes Montana as a venue for film media and says a 2019 legislative house bill helped increase wages for employees, which she hopes will help continue bringing high-wage jobs to the state.
“I grew up in the Flathead and there’s a real concern and I have friends saying ‘I can’t afford to live here,’” Fields said. “I am passionate about this industry because it’s providing jobs above $50,000 … Film is a blue-collar job, and it really takes a Montana work ethic.”