On December 18, USDA Rural Development hosted a Jobs and Economy Roundtable discussion in Livingston, Montana in Park County. About 7,000 people live in Livingston, which has an unemployment rate of 7.9 percent. The local economy was once dominated by the railroad and agriculture, but in recent years, because Yellowstone National Park is less than an hour away, tourism has become a growing business segment.
Anthony Preite, director of the Montana Department of Commerce Director, and Gary Slane, with the local Small Business Development Center, partnered in the event with USDA. Representatives from the Congressional delegation also attended. In all we had 20 participants who represented local business owners, health care services, local government, and the banking industry. We worked closely with the Livingston Chamber of Commerce to invite a good cross-section of the community.
Because the group was small, everyone could introduce themselves and provide their thoughts on the particular challenges or opportunities related to job creation in the area. Everyone seemed eager to share what they are experiencing in the local economy.
Most participants said they were sorry there is such a current shortage of jobs. Job seekers have overwhelmed recent job postings. Many agreed that incentives for small businesses to create jobs would be helpful, but a local businessman cautioned that tax credits don’t work well for a lot of businesses during a downturn. A local banker said that he is having trouble finding qualified applicants for the jobs they have available. He would like to see better workforce training tools.
Almost everyone from the business sector said that health care costs and payroll taxes are an impediment to creating jobs. Several business representatives said that employees don’t sign up for health insurance, even when the employer offers it.
Participants said tourism revenue is down, even though Yellowstone National Park visitation is up. More folks are camping and cooking for themselves. The decline in tourism spending sends ripples through every aspect of the Livingston economy.
There are bright spots on the horizon. A few businesses reported that they are adding jobs. A local manufacturing business has plans for a significant expansion. Local government and schools have avoided significant cuts with the help of recovery act funds, but they are bracing for that support to end.
We intend to hold more of these community-based roundtables across Montana in the coming weeks so other parts of our state can provide input on their economies. Check back to the Jobs Forum webpage for updated information.