GREAT FALLS — Economic development leaders say workers in the Great Falls area continue to see bigger bottom lines come pay day.
“In the last five years, our wages in Cascade County have increased by 20 percent,” said Great Falls Development Authority vice president Jolene Schalper.
Schalper said preliminary numbers show wages in Cascade County average around $42,000 annually. “For our average wage, that beats a lot of different counties,” she said. “We are the trade center and the trade hub and so we have more of those skilled jobs.”But she says even with those higher wages, the Great Falls Metropolitan Statistical Area, or MSA, is still bound by bodies when it comes to big business potential and the numbers aren’t quite there-yet.
“There’s several chain businesses that people want, brands that people want, that don’t enter in a community until they (community) hit 100,000.” Schalper said.
Currently, the Great Falls’ MSA has around 87,000 residents. Schalper says the area needs about another 13,000 people to hit that major milestone.
“Great Falls is open for business,” said Schalper. “We need people.”
A study by Chmura Economics & Analytics shows that adding 1,000 more residents - or just over 400 new households - would support around 200 jobs and add an estimate $19 million dollars to the area.
“Those jobs that are empty right now can be filled that’s when you get into more housing more development you get more businesses” said Schalper.
While development leaders work to attract more residents, Job Service Great Falls officials are busy pairing workers already in the area with potential professions through a number of ways.
“We see 40-800 people on any given day,” said Workforce Services Division manager Beth Schmidt. “We have workforce consultants that will sit down and do career assessments to determine, ‘Here’s what you want to do when you grow up,' and in Montana here’s how you get that, whether it requires any training, certification, higher education.”
The Good Wood Guys is partnering with the Job Service to create an apprenticeship program that attracts, trains, and retains workers.
“People don’t think to go to small businesses they think of big places in town,” said The Good Wood Guys owner Susan Crocker. “And there are thousands of small businesses in Great Falls that are looking for qualified people.” Crocker expects their woodworking program to roll out soon.
Great Falls is also a hub for health care; Schmidt says their agency helps employers who need workers that have a passion for the labor of love.
“I wasn’t sure where they were gonna put me, but when I found out it was A Plus Health Care, I was ecstatic.” said Leslie Brown, a personal-care attendant with A Plus Health Care. “I wouldn’t trade this job for anything in the world.”
“I really enjoy coming in and seeing them smile,” said PCA Rosann Friedrich. “‘Because someone is there.”
And that’s not the only employer looking to hire - McDonalds officials are pushing locations to hire 1,000 workers across the state by the end of the year and increase work applications by 10 percent nationally.
“In those service areas, those entry level jobs are going unfilled as well as people advance up,” said Schalper.
The three locally-owned McDonald's employ around 250 people in the Great Falls area, but manager Joey Himmelberg says they could always use more good workers.
“McDonalds as a whole wants to be known as ‘America’s Best First Job’,” he said.
Schalper said the GFDA is also excited to see more entrepreneurs take interest in the downtown and West Bank development areas.