Workers hard to find

Montana State Roundup

Published May 1, 2007  | May 2007 issue

In recent years, the state's economy has hummed along, fueled by healthy growth in real estate, construction, mining, manufacturing and tourism. Those industries created thousands of new jobs in 2006, government labor figures show. This robust growth has a downside for employers, however: A tight labor market is forcing companies to redouble their recruiting efforts and in some cases raise wages in order to fill positions.

As demand for labor has increased, the state unemployment rate has fallen to historic lows. In early 2005, the state unemployment rate was 5 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. At the end of last year, it stood at 2.9 percent, one of the lowest rates in the nation. A few good workers were even harder to find in Billings and Bozeman, where year-end unemployment rates were 2.2 percent and 1.9 percent, respectively. Low unemployment has also driven up wages; the average weekly wage of $575 in the second quarter of 2006 was 4 percent higher than the mean wage a year earlier.

Because of scarce labor, Chinook Wireless has struggled to hire salespeople in Bozeman and Helena, and a telephone call center in Great Falls has decided not to expand in the city, shifting parts of its operations to other states instead. Even fast-food operators have had to sweeten benefits and hike wages to attract workers: In January, the starting wage at Taco Bell restaurants in Bozeman was $9 an hour.

Phil Davies