Managing population growth is tricky, especially when it happens fast. The Montana Department of Labor & Industry recently released a report showing that Bozeman has seen more population growth than any other micropolitan area in the United States. The Bozeman micropolitan area includes all of Gallatin County and has passed 49,000 people. Once it is over 50,000, it will be reclassified as a metropolitan area. This will most likely happen in 2020. Let that one sink in.
This pace of growth brings with it workforce challenges. Gallatin County is facing a tight labor market, making it difficult for local employers to fill job openings, and in turn, harder for them to sustain or grow their business. As a community, the time to start the discussion and formulate solutions to expand our workforce is now.
While affordable housing has been identified as the primary concern by many in the community, two more factors weigh heavily into the equation of finding more people to enter the current workforce. While not impossible, these challenges don't come with a simple fix and need to be addressed concurrently.
Current projections predict Bozeman will be short 5,800 homes by 2029. Local realtors, financial institutions, city staff, and the Bozeman Area Chamber of Commerce estimate over 35% of recent home purchases are from retirees, trust-fund holders, remote workers, or people who travel to and from Bozeman via air to make their living. This means we are depleting our housing inventory to those who are unavailable to work for our local businesses. These buyers can also afford higher prices, which in turn causes the median home sales price to continue to rise.
A recent report by Child Care Connections shows that if every mom or dad could come back into the workforce, Bozeman would only have 33% of the needed daycare space available, which would leave 67% of those parents without quality daycare. In some cases, daycare is more expensive than housing. So while Bozeman currently has the potential workforce, if parents are going to be facing either a loss or a break-even point in their income, they often choose to stay home and raise their children themselves versus having them in childcare.
Recently, the Bozeman Area Chamber of Commerce met with Streamline and HRDC regarding our public transportation system. The goal of Streamline was to make transportation affordable so that workers would not have to drive a single-occupied car to and from work. This was the intention from inception. However, when the current transportation system was put into place, the massive growth to the west was not predicted.
While developers have been required to put transportation stops in their new developments, Streamline does not have enough drivers, adequate equipment, or the funding needed to make the connectivity into the county. To expand the service, we need more bus drivers, more bus lines, and upgraded equipment. Unfortunately, this comes at a time when funding for transportation is already being cut. Currently, Streamline is conducting a new study and assessing the situation as though there is no transportation system in place. We'll keep you appraised of the results.
Other issues further complicating the matter include competitive wages and benefits, college students not needing to hold part-time jobs, and the potential of year-round high school athletics, which would impede young people having part-time jobs.
Getting Montana high school graduates to enter our workforce is a big opportunity. Gallatin College at Montana State University currently has culinary and hospitality curriculums, which are great for young adults. A new Gallatin College campus would further expand these opportunities and provide workforce training skills, not only trade-specific but including business classes for entrepreneurs. Businesses in the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning sector have met twice to discuss creating a curriculum for training and to encourage Gallatin College to build a facility for hosting classes. A newly formed Building Trade Group will hold its first meeting in the first quarter of 2020 to do the same.
We are currently enjoying a healthy economy, making it the right time to begin addressing these issues. As a business owner, you need to be a part of finding solutions to these pressing issues. The 2020 Vision for the Business Community will be a big part of our Chamber's 2020 Program of Work. We will be setting up committees, rolling up our sleeves, and looking for ways to address all of these challenges at once.
There are many ways you can contribute – join the committees, participate in the forthcoming surveys, and attend the chamber business and community discussions and luncheons. Finding a long-range plan with a permanent fix is going to take a lot of collaboration; now is not the time to sit on the sidelines!