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Business Year in Review: 2018

Learn to work and play near the fire
Summer is the period when tourism companies organize hay while the sun is shining and visitors flow into the north-west of Montana. But the season of the extreme fires of 2017 reminded that all these activities depend on the whims of nature.

According to a survey conducted last autumn by the Institute for Tourism and Recreational Research at the University of Montana, 78% of tourism businesses in north-west Montana experienced the effects of smoking and fire on their bottom line. Only 47% of tourist businesses across the state believe that their business will increase in 2018.

Yet, despite the smoke and the fire, the visit to the valley was strong, thanks above all to the popularity of Glacier Park. More than half of tourist activities in the Glacier Country saw more visitors than in 2016, while 26% saw less and 22% saw the same. In addition, many of the companies surveyed recorded an increase in revenues in 2017 compared to 2016, with 34% showing increases of more than 5%.

Farm Bill Legalizes industrial hemp production
In 2014, the federal law on agriculture gave states the right to develop pilot research programs for the growth, cultivation and marketing of industrial hemp. Montana started one of these programs and in 2017, 14 certified farmers had 550 hectares of hemp. In 2018, there were 60 certified growers on nearly 13,000 acres, many of whom celebrated their first crops.

Joe Arnone, a hemp grower in Flathead, believes that Montana could have hundreds of thousands of hectares of hemp, transforming the agricultural economy here. The plant is extremely versatile and can be used for flour and other products based on cereals, cosmetics, alcoholic beverages, industrial applications such as lubricants, animal bedding, building materials, textiles and bio-composite materials.

The Farm Bill 2018, signed on December 20th, legalizes the production of industrial hemp in America.

Bitcoin Under the Big Sky
In recent years, regional power utilities in the Northwest of the United States have been inundated with requests for assistance from high energy consumption cryptocurrency processing loads. Requests for assistance began in the Mid-Columbia basin in central Washington – particularly in the counties of Chelan and Walla Walla – and since then they have spread to the Pacific Northwest, extending recently to this remote corner of Montana, where a virtual gold rush is in progress.

Electrical utilities in the north-west boast some of the nation's cheapest electricity tariffs, thanks in large part to the low cost of hydropower and its dense network of dams, making the region an attractive place for bitcoin mining facilities.

"Power companies outside of Washington are now witnessing an increase in the number of requests for assistance from cryptocurrency processing loads," said Mark Johnson, Flathead Electric Co-operative General Manager. "Flathead Electric is no exception."

Job Openings Plague Employers …
Spring was a primary market for job seekers or career changeovers.

"We currently have 825 jobs published," said Laura Gardner, manager of the Kalispell Job Service. "I think it's almost 100 more than last week when I looked at it."

Job openings span across the board, from the medical field to tourism businesses, looking for skilled and unskilled labor. The county hit 100,000 inhabitants for the first time the previous year, and seasonal jobs continued to be the cornerstone of Flathead's economy.

Montana's unemployment rate fell to below 4 percent in July, and in October the US added 250,000 jobs, marking the fastest growth since 2009. Yet, several companies in Flathead have described hiring trouble, with some even closed for a day because of the lack of staff.

… Reliable housing afflicts workers
In part as a way to manage the employment crisis, 2018 was a year of discussions and interventions on affordable housing.

According to an assessment of the labor supply needs of the labor force released in December 2016, whitefish workers of middle-income working class have limited options when it comes to finding comfortable and economically viable housing solutions, a problem that is moving the premises and forcing them to live outside their chosen community: 56% of Whitefish's workforce lives in neighboring communities, 34% of whom would prefer to live in Whitefish.

Seasonal workers face a low rental inventory, while home ownership remains out of reach for young professionals seeking to enter an oversized market that exceeds average family income.

At the start of the summer, Whitefish City Council approved affordable housing units, and the city received $ 6.75 million in federal tax credits in November to help it develop housing options. and stocks at affordable prices.
Kalispell continues to grow rapidly, with development moving west as more and more people seek affordable housing. In May and June, the Kalispell City Council approved two separate developments, located two miles from Three Mile, proposing to build 551 housing units in 200 acres. Those came after the March approval of a 324-unit apartment complex off Two Mile Drive.

Airplanes, campers and cars
Summer is the most challenging period of the Flathead Valley and surrounding areas, thanks to the incredible magnetism of the landscape and the welcoming and relaxed ethos of mountain culture.

Glacier Park International Airport registered the highest number of passengers in its history, hotel occupancy rates have increased and new hotels are arriving online every year. But many visitors come here by means of transport other than airplanes, and stay in campsites or RV parks, a trend that shows a high demand for this type of overnight stay.

Since 2008, Flathead County has approved several RV parks projects on its land divided into zones, adding at least 143 spaces.

On July 10, Kalispell's planning board approved a proposal for a new camper park south of the city on US Highway 93 that would add 330 downstream camper spaces on 50 acres. The project, called Montana Basecamp, would be the first camper park for Kalispell.

And in early May, the Montana Environmental Quality Department approved the environmental assessment for water and wastewater facilities in a proposed camper park near the glacier's west entrance. This project proposes the construction of a campsite with space for more than 100 campers and 25 cabins on 178 acres just west of the West Glacier Village.

Wildfire influences the glacier visit numbers
In August, due to the fire, nearly 100,000 hectares were closed in the glacier, along with 141.8 miles of trail and 47 miles of road. This summer is the third time in four years that the iconic Going-to-the-Sun Road has been closed for a significant period of time due to fires.

Park spokeswoman Lauren Alley said that while fires have probably looted visits, it has generally increased traffic in some areas, as visitors have fewer places to go. Two Medicines and many glaciers have become particularly busy in recent weeks, while visitors seek places outside the west side of the park, smoked by smoke.

Dylan Boyle, executive director of the Whitefish Convention and Visitors Bureau, said he received numerous calls from visitors asking if they should cancel their visit. Boyle tells them that while the fires hit part of the park, there are still more things to do in Northwest Montana.

The Glacier Rail Park opens
In October, local officials hammered 10 golden ears to celebrate the completion of the new $ 12.2 million Glacier Rail Park at Evergreen.
The completion of the railway park and the possible transfer of grain from CHS Kalispell and the Northwest Drywall will allow the removal of two miles of railway tracks in the center of Kalispell, paving the way for a new runway and development.

Construction began in Glacier Rail Park in August 2017 and since then contractors have been involved in the construction of roads, railways and water and sewage systems. CHS Kalispell inaugurated the new plant and began construction work on the new Northwest Drywall warehouse. If everything goes according to plan, both companies will operate outside the 44-acre railway park. Once this happens, the tracks in the center of Kalispell will be abandoned and removed.

How the economy feeds us open
In December, Whitefish hosted the first Business of Outdoor Recreation Summit, a Whitefish meeting of over 250 attendees and speakers organized by the Montana Outdoor Recreation office to discuss the value of the outdoors for businesses and communities local landscapes.

During a series of wide-ranging debates and free-form conversations at the summit, industry experts indicated the value and currency of open air recreation in terms of dollar signs and quality of life, infrastructure improvements and conservation of nature.

According to the latest figures from the Outdoor Industry Association, outdoor recreation is now Montana's largest economy sector, generating over $ 7 billion a year in consumer spending and supporting more than 70,000 jobs that pay more than $ 2 billion in wages.

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