Chamber looks toward another year of growth

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The Kalispell Chamber of Commerce pitched its strategic plans for 2019 during a luncheon Tuesday at the Red Lion Hotel that director Joe Unterreiner billed as a de facto “annual meeting.”

Unterreiner stressed that for the second year in a row, Kalispell is at the heart of an area ranked third in the United States for “micropolitan” growth. A micro area is defined as a county with at least one urban cluster of more than 10,000 people but less than 50,000.

As measured by U.S. Census Bureau population estimates, Flathead County grew by 2,307 people from 2016 to 2017, making it third in numeric increase behind the Bozeman area and Jefferson, Georgia.

The Chamber aims to help keep the trend of population and economic growth going through a number of programs. One of the biggest is a multi-year workforce initiative, coordinating among educators and employers to ensure that businesses have a supply of skilled local workers who fit their needs.

“We have people without jobs and jobs without people,” Unterreiner said. “We plan to create the most educated and productive workforce in Montana.”

Promoting local business is one of the Chamber’s biggest missions. Unterreiner pointed out that the Chamber’s Development Information Center will be especially stressing the tax incentives that exist for businesses looking to move downtown.

One of the Chamber’s major concerns for the current Montana legislative session is to defend tourism funding.

“There’s always an eye toward grabbing those funds for other things, or to add to bed taxes to supplement the general fund,” Unterreiner said.

He added that other priorities for the Chamber include supporting legislation that makes “common-sense changes to liquor laws” and to support aquatic invasive species protections.

“Invasive species have a huge negative impact on our lakes and waterways and the people who own property along those,” he said. “Several of our legislators say that it is a high priority for them as well.”

Unterreiner said a perception of commercial growth stagnating in Kalispell doesn’t match up to what he is seeing.

“There are a lot of people still approaching us with ideas that have a long lead time,” he said.

He pointed to the tens of millions of dollars spent in recently completed and upcoming “significant institutional projects” at Flathead Valley Community College, Kalispell Regional Healthcare and Glacier Park International Airport as signs of a locally thriving economy.

Reporter Heidi Gaiser can be reached at 758-4438 or hgaiser@dailyinterlake.com

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