The Northwest Region is a landscape of great contrast. Home to some of the most remote areas and vast timberlands in the lower 48 states, this region is also home to almost one third of the state’s population. The Highway 93 corridor, linking communities from Eureka to Darby, is one of the most densely populated and culturally rich areas of the state. In addition to seven counties, the region includes the Flathead Indian Reservation, home to the Bitterroot Salish, Kootenai and Pend d’Oreille peoples of the Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes. The Northwest Region includes an active workforce of more than 140,000 people.
With natural amenities like Glacier National Park, the Bob Marshall Wilderness and Flathead Lake, it is no surprise that residents of the Northwest Region consider outdoor recreation and the quality of the natural environment to be the area’s greatest strengths. These qualities, along with the area’s unique culture, can be used to develop branding and recruitment strategies that attract the entrepreneurs and skilled workers needed to build existing and future businesses.
With the University of Montana in Missoula, Flathead Valley Community College in Kalispell, Bitterroot College-UM in Hamilton, Missoula College-UM, and Salish Kootenai College in Pablo, the region has outstanding higher education and workforce development resources. These resources are already establishing public-private partnerships that increase the knowledge base and income potential of the region’s workers. They also provide emerging businesses with exceptional research and development opportunities. Building on the successes of these programs will provide long term benefits to the regional and state economy.
The quality of life in the Northwest Region and the close proximity to population centers across Montana’s northern border make tourism, marketing and business development with Canadian firms an obvious opportunity. Likewise, the Northwest is home to excellent healthcare centers that support wellness, provide high paying jobs, and attract older and seasonal residents. Efforts to partner the education and workforce development centers with the needs of the growing medical service industry make the Northwest Region more robust and economically diverse. More jobs in the health and wellness field will help reverse one of the region’s (and the state’s) biggest challenges – relatively low wages.
Using the region’s timber resources in innovative ways, like the biomass fuel electricity co-generator in Columbia Falls and the biomass boiler heating schools in Darby, provides leadership in the field of renewable energy. Pockets of advanced manufacturing and high-tech industries have emerged in the region as well, providing good jobs in both urban centers and small, timber and ranch towns. Continuing efforts to cultivate new start-ups, providing business development services, on-going worker training, and capitalizing on the region’s resources and beauty will help grow these sectors of the economy and strengthen the economic base.