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Missoula County average wage gains ground in early 2020, topping $20 an hour

Posted at 5:35 PM, Jan 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-15 19:35:55-05

MISSOULA — While 2020 remains young, the average annual wage in Missoula County has gained ground on the statewide average, topping $20 an hour for the first time, according to figures announced Wednesday by the Montana Department of Revenue.

Local officials attributed the gains to a focused effort on creating high-wage jobs and the state’s Big Sky Trust Fund job creation grant. The average annual wage in Missoula County now stands at $20.35 an hour, or roughly 97.5% of the state average.

“This is exactly what we’ve been working toward in Missoula by increasing the number of high paying jobs that can be filled by people in our community,” Missoula Economic Partnership president and CEO Grant Kier said in Wednesday’s announcement. “We know folks expect us to keep creating pathways for people to improve their circumstances until we reach the top of Montana’s list for wages and the bottom of the list for poverty.”

Local officials attributed the gain in earnings in part to the Big Sky Trust Fund program offered by the Montana Department of Commerce. The program is administered locally by MEP and sponsored by Missoula County, and it’s been used extensively in Missoula to help business add jobs associated with higher wages.

Recent beneficiaries have included ClassPass, Consumer Direct and Cognizant-ATG, among many others. Last October, MEP told the Missoula Current that it had secured more than $1.7 million in grants to assist 11 Missoula companies create 174 high-paying jobs.

To qualify for the grant, a business in Missoula must pay the equivalent of $20.35 an hour, which equals an annual full-time wage of roughly $42,300. Commissioner Josh Slotnick described the figures announced Wednesday as encouraging.

“We’re encouraged to see these numbers, which demonstrate that programs like the Big Sky Trust Fund job creation grants are moving the needle in the right direction,” Slotnick said in a statement.

In 2016, the average wage in Missoula County was $17.78 an hour, or 95% of the Montana average. But the figure has steadily climbed in recent years, hitting $20.35 this year.

Of the seven urban centers in the state, Missoula has experienced the second-highest rate of wage growth over the past five years, according to the Montana Department of Revenue.

“When we founded the Missoula Economic Partnership a decade ago, we wanted, quite simply, more folks to make a living wage,” Mayor John Engen said in Wednesday’s announcement. “So we set about helping businesses with similar goals grow and prosper and we’re seeing the results of that intentionality.

“We don’t create good jobs, but we foster an environment where business people who do want to be,” he added. “We have much more work to do.”