All six Ravalli County state legislators recently met with 10 small business owners and managers to listen to their concerns and hear their thoughts regarding economic opportunity and struggles in Ravalli County. The businesses participating included Ironhaus Manufacturing, Bitterroot Tool & Machine, R & R Conner, Lakeland Feeds & Supply, Selway Corporation, Glacier Tool & Die, and Huls Dairy.
The purpose was to gather information firsthand “from the folks with the boots on the ground,” according to Ed Greef, Representative from HD 88. Legislators wanted to hear concerns, issues, obstacles, suggestions for changes, any and all topics that the legislators could work to resolve.
This was new territory for both groups as neither had done a roundtable discussion quite like this before, said Greef. He said a cautious start quickly became a comfortable atmosphere that led to lots of enthusiastic discussion with open and frank sharing by everyone. The efforts of Julie Foster, of Ravalli County Economic Development Authority, were gratefully recognized for bringing the business group together.
Some issues identified included difficulty with state regulations regarding employee termination and complications from medical marijuana in the workplace; personal property taxes on new buildings and equipment are difficult to maneuver through; internet sales tax threatens small and home based businesses; internet speed and access is still an issue in a lot of areas in the valley; more career ready, vocational and agricultural school programs are needed; Workers Comp continues to be an issue with rates and wrongful claims; and young adults need better training in real life skills.
Community leaders and state legislators working together can make improvements in the Ravalli County and Montana business climate, said Greef. For example, in the last legislative session big improvements were made with workers comp in both rates and claim time limits. He said more can be done next session. Education curriculum changes, more two-year tech training options, and more focus on career ready training will benefit businesses with workforce issues.
The legislators met again to discuss additional research and follow up actions needed to achieve workable solutions to the issues discussed. They will continue to draw on the knowledge and experience of the business leaders who participated in the roundtable and others as necessary. The legislators will meet monthly to ensure the issues are kept front and center and momentum is not lost even during the busy campaign session, Greef said.
The legislators welcome all interest and questions and will be happy to follow up personally. In addition to Representative Greef, other legislators participating included Senators Scott Boulanger and Fred Thomas, Representatives Nancy Ballance, Pat Connell and Ron Ehli.