Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) From a tight labor pool to rising rents, businesses across the downtown district and other parts of Missoula are facing unique challenges, all of which have gained the attention of the Missoula Economic Partnership.

The organization, one of the city’s leading economic arms, said local businesses in recent months have expressed a range of concerns regarding the city’s current economic climate.

Christine Littig, the business development director with MEP, said the issues range from potential changes to downtown parking to rising rents.

“It’s really had an impact on some long-standing businesses that we love and have been in our community for a long time and weren’t really planning for rent increases to jump three times,” Littig said. “That’s impacting what we’re seeing downtown, and I think it’s also impacting what we’re seeing countywide, though those increases vary depending on location.”

Littig said rent increases may be related to a number of factors, from changes in building ownership to improper business planning. But other factors have also emerged, and some of them have come as a surprise.

Grant Kier, head of the Missoula Economic Partnership, said the age of the downtown district may also play a role. The city is aging with many properties now crossing the century mark. While history and 19th century architecture may be delightful, it may also be costly.

“We’ve crossed this threshold, where at 100 years you move into a different category for insurance,” said Kier. “It’s throwing people’s insurance up into a much higher bracket. It’s impacting our market.”

While the district ages, nation insurance trends are also playing a factor. Kier said national insurance companies have taken a hit from climate-related issues, be it rising sea levels, stronger storms or longer fire seasons.

To offset the cost increases in some at-risk regions, companies are raising insurance prices nationally. Not only could that impact homeowners, but business owners also pay a price.

“The national market of insurance companies is taking a huge hit from climate change, and they’re looking really closely at their models and the kinds of things they insure,” Kier said. “I think insuring property is going to be an increasing concern for businesses and residents moving forward in our region. If we lose our competitive marketplace for insurance, it could get really tough for people if their insurance is going up as quickly as their property taxes.”

Employee recruitment and retention also remains a challenge. As the cost of housing climbs, many businesses can’t pay enough to keep their employees. And after the shakeup of the pandemic, many long-term employees have moved on.

“There are still businesses experiencing workforce issues. There are businesses that are struggling with middle management,” said Littig. “Through the turnover and what we saw with the influx of employment in the last few years, a lot of businesses lost some of those historical employees who had been there for quite some time and we’re offering that historical management. We see that quite a bit.”

Littig said parking, particularly in the downtown area, also remains a concern for businesses. The Missoula Parking Commission in April said it planned to consider a number of recommendations from a recent parking study that could, if implemented, change the way parking is managed downtown.

It could also increase the fees for both permit and hourly parking. While none of the recommendations have been adopted, Littig said MEP has met with several dozen downtown businesses to hear their thoughts and concerns on the issue.

“There’s been a lot of conversations about parking. It’s one of those side levers that impact your businesses,” said Littig. “The parking commission just approved to use its consultant’s plan as a guidepost for their decision making. We pulled together a small roundtable to get businesses to see the plan early, provide some input, and provide some framework of understanding on what it’s like to be in business and how parking impacts business.”

Montana's 7 Poorest Cities Ranked

For many Montanans, it's a struggle to make ends meet. With the high cost of housing, several locals have found themselves between a rock and a hard place when it comes to just getting by. Throw in the fact that prices are on the rise in almost every aspect of our lives and it's not too hard to see why so many Montanans are frustrated and are looking to leave The Treasure State.. Let's take a look at the state's 7 poorest cities according to Stacker.

Gallery Credit: Derek Wolf

The Missoula Current is a Montana owned and operated news organization founded in 2015 to help fill the void in local journalism, and we've been free to read ever since. If you would like to read the original article, click here.

More From Newstalk KGVO 1290 AM & 98.3 FM