With the COVID-19 recovery underway, the Polson business community gathered on May 19 to discuss how it survived the 2020 shutdown and share resources to help businesses stay vibrant in the future.
Jim Thaden, executive director of Mission West Community Development Partners, broke the ice with an optimistic message.
“There are abundant resources available” to help support the economic recovery, Thaden said. Local banks and credit unions are ready to help with trade finance. Mission West helps find grants, loans and other special funds made available, as well as free mentors and technical assistance for entrepreneurs and start-ups.
With a large amount of federal stimulus money coming to Montana, “this is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Thaden said.
Change is inevitable, but the country’s economy will grow. Managing it is important to continue growing the local economy, he said.
Mission Valley Power General Manager Jean Matt presented information on the local power supply. The utility is federally owned, operated under contract, and it offers Montana’s cheapest electricity at 6.89 cents per kWh, well below the state average of 11.2 cents. Mission Valley Power buys 80% of its electricity from the federal Bonneville Power Administration and 19% from the local SKQ dam (formerly Kerr).
Matt said MVP’s goal is to have all outages across the 1,600 square mile service area be back in service within two hours.
“We are non-profit, funded by taxpayers. We work for you. “
A panel of four local businesses provided insight into how various businesses have “pivoted” to adapt to the rapid changes that have come so suddenly with the COVID pandemic.
Carol Lynn Lapotka of Handmade Montana converted her clothing manufacturing site to make full-time masks while working to increase the online supply of Montana artists that she normally presents at major events throughout the year. year.
Mary Frances Caselli never closed Ms. Wonderful Cafe, but opted for take-out, including casseroles. The Napa Valley Food and Wine Tour was fortunate enough to occur during a short window when California was opened before the surge in COVID cases closed operations again.
“The loyalty of this city got us through,” said Caselli. “It means a lot to the community when you shop locally.”
Bobby Goldberg had set himself the goal of purchasing the building that houses his Second Nature business in downtown Polson. It was closed for a full month effective March 27 of last year and she used that time to build a website and learn all she could about promoting her business and community on the media. social in a “positive and healthy” way.
Godlberg said she also received help from three grants.
“Montana is behind small business, absolutely.”
After the reopening, the summer tourist season has been extremely busy.
“I couldn’t have done it without the heart that is Polson.”
Brooke Duty, director of marketing and sales for S&K Gaming – who oversees the Kwa Taq Nuk Resort, the Gray Wolf Peak casino in Evaro, and the Polson and Big Arm marinas – said the pandemic had completely shut down resorts and casinos, but she was happy to do so. report that the management team worked through federal and state stimulus and clawback funds to continue paying the entire workforce during their shutdown, despite the lack of revenue. To this day, she said, they still have COVID prevention protocols in place.
“We’re back swinging and rolling.”
Several other presentations led to a discussion on the double difficulty of finding employees and housing them at an affordable price. Another identified need was childcare and other family care.
“Housing is a top priority for the town of Polson,” said City Manager Ed Meece, who has experienced the problem firsthand since arriving here eight months ago.
Caselli said part of recruiting a new chef is to network to find him a place to live.
“We don’t have the advantage of being able to just do a study and then leave it to others.”
The city is working with community partners on short and long term options for high quality affordable housing.
Erin Schlock of Polson Job Service said the current national labor shortage is expected in 2015 due to changing demographics and other factors. Several local businesses cannot open with their full hours, attendees said, due to a lack of workers. There is some hope that with the increased unemployment insurance ending in June, some workers could be encouraged to return.
But Schlock said there are other sides to the problem.
“We’re almost at the unemployment rate we were at before covid,” Schlock said, “but there is a labor shortage.” As an example, she mentioned that many women have left the workforce to care for children or other family members. She strategizes with companies to “think outside the box” for recruiting ideas, including hiring events, signing bonuses and, in some cases, employer-provided housing.
A representative of the Chamber of Commerce commended the town of Polson for its immediate work on the housing issue to prevent tent cities and the homelessness that other communities face.
Representatives from the city and Mission West said they intend to have more of this type of open discussion in the future.