The state of Flathead business is improving. Six long years after the recession technically ended hiring, investment, and consumer spending are improving. The prospects of a sustained recovery in construction and real estate appear to be improving too.
We have had a few quarters of solid growth, adding 1,574 jobs to Flathead County last year. The national economy should continue to improve moderately in 2015. The US Chamber expects to see growth at 3% to 3.5% at least through the middle of the year. Interest rates, energy prices, and inflation should remain low for the time being.
But when you look beyond the near term, the outlook is less certain. There are signs that the weakening Canadian dollar is moderating visitation from Alberta. Growth in China and Europe is slowing. There is also the potential for disruption from a host of international conflicts.
Closer to home, employers are dealing with a new healthcare mandate. The Congress will face a series of government funding and debt limit deadlines. At some point, the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates.
In 2015, we will focus on a growth agenda that capitalizes on the extraordinary potential we have in tourism and recreation, manufacturing, technology, and Kalispell’s role
THE GROWTH AGENDA
REGIONAL TRADE CENTER
Kalispell continues to strengthen its trade center status creating benefits for the entire region. Last year Kalispell added nearly 100,000 square feet of new retail space. Employment at Kalispell Regional Medical Center is approaching 3,000. Flathead Valley Community College is expanding its curriculum offerings and strengthening its connections with area high schools. We will be very clear about what lawmakers in the Flathead Valley and in Helena need to do to further grow jobs and support a free enterprise environment.
Now is the time to refocus on Kalispell’s central business district. The Bypass is scheduled for completion in 2017. We continue to get closer on the goal of creating the Kalispell Rail Park and removing the rail tracks through downtown. The realization of these goals will provide new opportunities for urban renewal in the downtown core. We must fight to find ways to keep traffic moving and also preserve the authentic charm that is the Kalispell brand.
MANUFACTURING AND TECHNOLOGY
Along with a stronger regional trade center, manufacturing and technology can continue to deliver great benefits to our economy and quality of life. This year our Manufacturers Alliance will be running full speed and will spearhead a Chamber-wide effort to advance our technology companies and their policy interests.
Infrastructure is another growth opportunity. We are asking our Congressional delegation to pass long-term highway and aviation bills with full funding. Trading and travel around the world requires safe, modern infrastructure. Families, workers, visitors, and tourists need it too. We have had success with new commercial air service to Los Angeles, Chicago, and Portland. But now is not the time to take a victory lap. We must continue to push to complete the Bypass, build growth into our sewer, water and broadband infrastructure, and push harder for air routes that better connect us to our customers.
TRADE AND TOURISM
Speaking of new customers, ninety-five percent of the people we want to sell something to live outside the United States – 1 million+ live just across the border in the Calgary/Lethbridge market. Glacier National Park, destination ski resorts, and an abundance of outdoor recreational opportunities are the reasons we love Montana. They are also the drivers behind our growth in tourism, real estate, construction, and increasingly – technology companies.
We are going to push harder than ever to create innovative events and bolder marketing campaigns that will share the Kalispell and Montana brand. We know this effort will result in greater tourism, investment, and job growth.
As the Chamber pursues a full policy agenda focused on economic growth and infrastructure development, rest assured that we will fight to preserve the spirit of enterprise, which begins with the right to risk, to fail, to try again, to succeed, and to be rewarded for your efforts.