The Kalispell Chamber hosted its first lunch gathering of the year Tuesday where well over 100 people gathered to hear about the chamber’s plans for the upcoming year.
All indications are it will be a busy one. Kalispell Chamber President Joe Unterreiner outlined why they feel optimistic about the year ahead and also detailed some of the challenges they expect to face.
Unterreiner cited low unemployment, the new federal tax plan and record visitation levels to Glacier National Park despite a horrific fire season as reasons for optimism for the coming year. He also said instability caused by geopolitical tumult, the threat of invasive aquatic species like zebra and quagga mussels and rising interest rates could potentially stymie economic growth.
The first months of the year are always when the chamber receives the most requests for information from prospective visitors and people who are considering relocating to the Flathead Valley, Unterreiner said. This year is no exception.
The chamber planned to continue encouraging and supporting the development of downtown. Unterreiner lauded the downtown plan the Kalispell City Council recently passed, and encouraged large infrastructure projects like the Glacier Rail Park, a valleywide trail system and additional work on U.S. 93 bypass like expanding it to four lanes on the north end of town and removing the roundabouts.
“We see tremendous potential in downtown Kalispell,” he said.
As unemployment ticks lower, he said his team would be refocusing efforts from encouraging job growth in all sectors to trying to specifically encourage high-paying manufacturing jobs.
Manufacturing jobs currently account for 9 percent of total jobs, but 12 percent of total payroll in the Flathead Valley.
Diane Medler, director of the Convention and Visitor Bureau with the chamber, said they would continue to expand the slate of events they hold to bring tourists to the area during the shoulder seasons, despite the early disappointment of having to cancel the Montana Pond Hockey Classic.
She said this year Kalispell had been chosen to host the Montana Youth Soccer Association state tournament, which should bring in around 1,000 people for three nights.
“That’s a lot of hotel rooms,” Medler said.
The soccer tournament will be in early June, the weekend after the Three Blind Refs tournament held in Kalispell each year.
To help entice visitors to come permanently, Unterreiner said they had plans to convert an upstairs conference room in their building to a room where they will put maps that clearly show developable plots and resources about the area economy and how to get in touch with local Realtors.
“Things are as strong as ever here in the Flathead,” Unterreiner said.
Reporter Peregrine Frissell can be reached at (406) 758-4438 or email@example.com.