4-county economic study ‘exceeds expectations’

With more than $100,000 in investment from both public and private entities, the long-awaited Area Economic Adjustment
Strategy for Lewis and Clark, Broadwater, Jefferson and Meagher counties is in.

Helena IR

“I think it exceeded the expectations in many respects,” said project manager Becky Beard.
Funded by private and public organizations, the study brought together people from the four counties affected by Asarco’s closure.

They laid out problems and discussed opportunities, she said. Now those same organizations have a new challenge: Put the study
to use.
Some concerns identified by the study included state budget cuts, an aging work force and the loss of good-paying jobs. Asarco’s
closing, not surprisingly, had the greatest impacts. Directly and indirectly, the shutdown of the East Helena business cost the region
504 jobs, or 1 percent of the study area’s work force.

In 2000, 259 people worked at Asarco. Ninety-three people worked for companies providing services to Asarco, and an estimated
191 people were employed because of Asarco-related employees spending money on cars, houses and other expenses. Today, 24
people work at Asarco, five work for supplier companies and 10 make a living from spending by these employees.
The number of job losses is 800 when including the downsizing of Falcon Publishing and Hydrometrics Inc.

The short-term impact of job losses were offset by construction projects — the Great Northern Town Center, St. Peter’s Hospital, the
federal buildings and Fort Harrison. Since the early 1990s, construction employment went from 1,400 to 2,700.
The construction industry is, however, cyclical.
Adding to the area’s burden are proposals to cut the state budget.

“Reductions in the state budget will result in net losses of state jobs, earnings freezes or pay raise constraints for state workers,
reduced state agency expenditures for contracted services and/or other cutbacks in government purchases from area businesses.
The proposed cutback will quickly cause direct, indirect and induced impacts on the region’s employment and earnings,” the study
The government sector makes up 19 percent of area jobs.

However, state government payrolls account for about 18 percent of labor income in the four counties. Federal and local
government, education and the Federal Reserve Bank and quasi-public payrolls compose another nine percent of the labor
On the positive side, the study noted that Summit Design and Manufacturing, American Chemet, Helena College of Technology,
Blue Cross Blue Shield, St. Peter’s Hospital, Carroll College are all expanding or have the potential to expand.

Adding Northwest Airlines to the Helena Regional Airport in October will also benefit the economy.
In addition, the study lists opportunities and strengths as perception of low crime, work ethic, low interest rates, desire for quality of
life, growth of technology and recreation and tourism.
“I think it put the foundation in place that identifies areas of concerns,” said Ron Alles, Lewis and Clark County chief administrative

Broadwater County Commissioner Jim Hohn said he was so impressed with the study he will include the information in the county
growth policy, use it as background information to apply for grants and post the data on the county’s Web site to inform the public
about the area.
For the most part, the Gateway Economic Development Corporation and the Jefferson Local Development Corporation will be in
charge of putting the document to use. The organizations are still reviewing the information released July 15, according to Sheli
Jacoby, Gateway’s administrative assistant.

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