Thoughts on CRR from Community Experts
Brent A. Campbell
CEO WGM Group, Inc.
BJ Grieve, AICP, CFM
Senior Planner, WGM Group, Inc.
Downtown Kalispell has long served as the economic and financial hub of the Flathead Valley. The recently awarded TIGER grant will provide critical investment in civic infrastructure to strengthen Kalispell as the leader in the economic resurgence in the Flathead Valley. Strategic investment in public infrastructure should strive to leverage 5-7 times the private sector investment in redevelopment and economic growth. In other words, the roughly $10 million dollar TIGER grant combined with the additional $11 million contributed by BNSF, the City of Kalispell and the Flathead County Economic Development Authority, strategically directed, will spur $100 to $140 M in private sector investment in Kalispell. This will create hundreds of permanent jobs in the Flathead and provide for the future growth of the local economy.
The objective is to use the TIGER trail project as a catalyst for downtown redevelopment and to strengthen Kalispell as a great place to live, work and own a business. Montana’s current economic resurgence is based in part on the notion that entrepreneurs and business owners can live and work where they vacation. Factors influencing the decision to start a new business venture include community livability, workforce skills and availability, and the quality of education available. Many former Montana residents are making important life change decisions and moving back to Montana to start a new business venture. Communities with attractive livability factors that accommodate an active daily lifestyle and high quality cultural environment will be the place these people choose to start their new businesses and invest their assets.
A vibrant downtown Kalispell will complement the existing commercial growth that has occurred in north Kalispell. Kalispell is becoming a retail trade center and the downtown plays an important role in complementing and building on the retail trade center status. Strengthening the downtown Main Street, Core Area and Kalispell Center Mall as an entertainment and shopping destination will draw visitors and residents to enjoy the unique character and charm downtown has to offer. Urban housing downtown will provide important lifestyle choices for residents who want to live close to work and the places they play.
Urban trails play an important role in community livability, desirability and revitalization. Reorganization, consolidation and relocation of the remaining industrial land uses in downtown will improve economic efficiency and reduce transportation costs. Conversion of the outdated industrial rail spur to an east-west trail system that connects downtown and the mall to the Woodland Park and the Conrad Sports Complex will be a unique and attractive amenity for residents and visitors. Trails are a proven economic boost for local real-estate. According to a 2006 Portland, Maine publication, “adjacent trails can add as much as fifteen percent to the value of a home.” The National Association of Home Builders and the National Association of Realtors verify that new home buyers rank walking, jogging, and bike trails as the second most important community amenity.
The trail and subsequent redevelopment will give a desirable community in the heart of beautiful northwest Montana even more value by strengthening the urban core and providing bike and pedestrian connections to important destinations in the east and west. It will also create a regional shopping hub for the central part of Kalispell that will be distinct from retail on the north side of town.
The National Main Street Center’s four-point approach to downtown revitalization includes organization, design, promotion and economic restructuring. The TIGER grant provides the important financial investment to accommodate the re-organization of land uses as well as the subsequent economic restructuring and redesign of blighted areas of the downtown.
Kalispell has huge potential to be the trade center hub for northwest Montana. Community leaders in Kalispell have crafted a well thought out plan to achieve this goal and now they have obtained the funding to put it in place. The Flathead Valley and all of Montana’s economy will significantly benefit from their leadership and this investment.
Opinion Editorial – Kristen Heck
By Kristen Heck
Kalispell sits at the confluence of many opportunities. With recent successes such as the Bypass and TIGER Grant, now is the time to step forward and leverage these opportunities to improve our town’s future. Skiing, hiking, camping, water sports, and hunting are available here at a level of quality found few places in the West. Kalispell has these attractions, but they are only a part of what is required to bring vibrant, new industry to our community.
The Flathead Valley is already feeling the pinch of a labor force that cannot meet the demands of employers. State and national predictions are that this trend will continue over the next five years as more baby-boomers retire. The Flathead Valley will have to compete for a smart, well-educated and enthusiastic workforce. Investing in our community can help.
Industry needs educated and trained young professionals available to facilitate growth. Today’s young people, the key to attracting industry, want not only outdoor activities but excellent dining, live music venues, walkability and more. To appeal to the next generation of business leaders, Kalispell must offer work, play, and cultural enrichment.
Take for example, Bend, Oregon. Once a town reliant on logging, the town now thrives on the arts, tourism, and manufacturing. Bend harnessed the beauty of the Deschutes River flowing through its downtown. The community converted its old sawmill into parks and made recreation and walking along the river part of their economic base. Today, People can paddleboard on the river, and step off the water in the afternoon for a drink at the nearby, nationally recognized Deschutes brewery. Young people thrive in Bend and it fits their lifestyle. Yet, it also offers much beyond the town itself.
A proponent of Bend’s success is proximity to other towns such as Sisters, Oregon. Sisters is another small town that provides an active lifestyle; it has also encouraged businesses to create a distinct culture that draws outdoors enthusiasts and those seeking unique restaurant options. Likewise, Whitefish has done much the same as Sisters. It developed on a wealth of the outdoor amenities and fostered a vibrant downtown. Kalispell, working with our neighbor, Whitefish, can cultivate synergy similar to Bend and Sisters. The more active and happening the communities, the more young professionals will desire to be here because they can enjoy multiple scenes offering different activities.
Bend investment in parks and a vibrant downtown have garnered a great return. 29.7 percent of Bend’s population has a bachelor’s degree. This compares favorably with the rest of the state, which has only 18.7 percent possessing a bachelor’s degree. In Bend, 32.8 percent of households make more than $75,000 annually, and Bend has a median household income of $53,000. Bend has attracted more industry and grown successfully as a community because it offers an attractive lifestyle with strong supporting industries.
Comparing this to Kalispell, 18.2 percent of our households make $75,000 or greater, and our median household income is $41,000. Kalispell’s population holding a bachelor’s degree is lower than average compared to the state of Montana. However, this does not need to be our future.
Kalispell is much like Bend. We share a history of logging, but the conversion to a community that appeals to young professionals has progressed further in Bend. We can do more to facilitate this same growth in Kalispell. Our outdoor opportunities are many and we can create synergy with our neighbors. The next step is to create a highly attractive community from a lifestyle standpoint.
We do this by converting unused industrial land to parks and places where the community can gather and walk, while maintaining proximity to all the city has to offer. We create opportunities for businesses to invest in businesses and housing where young professionals will want to be. We do this by understanding how we can change and grow in a way that will create a place where our children can and will want to stay and work. We can make Kalispell the community both young professionals and new industries will want to make their home. We must act now on the many opportunities available to create a stronger Kalispell.
Kristen Heck is a Kalispell resident and the President and Co-Owner of LC Staffing and Loyal Care. LC Staffing provides temporary, temporary-to-hire staffing, and professional search services for a wide range of industries and organizations in Kalispell, Missoula and Bozeman, Montana.
Flathead Valley Farmer
Montana Senate SD 3
The Glacier Rail Park will benefit the citizens of Northwest Montana, strengthen the economy, and implement safety improvements. As a Flathead Valley farmer, I know the Glacier Rail Park means a brighter future. Our industry’s success relies on a vibrant and efficient rail system. Developing an industrial rail park on the edge of city limits, that accommodates CHS and other rail-served businesses, is critical to our local agricultural trade.
Originally, the CHS grain elevator sat on the perimeter of Kalispell. Kalispell has grown significantly since that time. Now, heavily used streets, homes, and retail establishments surround the grain elevator. Currently, 2500 farm trucks each year must navigate narrow roads and increasing traffic to reach CHS’s downtown grain elevator. During the harvest season this is compounded; trucks are often backed up four to five blocks from the elevator.
This dangerous dynamic is responsible for multiple accidents each year. If left unchecked, it may force local farmers to seek other, more costly transportation options. I am aware of one farmer who has grain professionally hauled 320 miles rather than risk the liability of driving downtown. For this farmer, the expense is manageable. For others, increased shipping costs may be devastating.
Fortunately, there is a solution. The Glacier Rail Park enables CHS to move its grain elevator to a logical setting that is safe for everyone. The CHS fertilizer facility, which battles similar traffic challenges, will also relocate to the Glacier Rail Park. Equally important, the Glacier Rail Park ensures that in coming years, shipping is affordable for the Flathead Valley farming community.
The Glacier Rail Park is a win-win for the future of Kalispell - stronger industry, a friendlier downtown and safer streets for everyone.
By Chris Parson
Kalispell saw a genesis of new industry and hope on New Year’s Day, 1892, with the arrival of the first train into town. In that era, railroads were renowned for the prosperity they brought to a town, and Flathead residents moved quickly to take advantage of that promise. Droves of residents moved their Demersville homes northward to Kalispell, inching them along on logs, to be closer to the new hub of commerce. Overnight, Demersville became a ghost town. Twelve short years later, much to the chagrin of those same residents, the Great Northern Railway moved its main line north through Whitefish. Despite that challenge, Kalispell continued to grow, establishing itself as the Flathead Valley’s center of commerce. Today, a new chapter in the story is emerging, one that may place Kalispell again at center stage for rail access in Northwestern Montana.
This spring, work starts on the Glacier Rail Park, a new industrial park for rail-served businesses. The Glacier Rail Park will provide the Flathead access to worldwide ports at competitive freight rates via railroad. This rail park and the corollary improvements-- such as the Kalispell Bypass--are addressing large needs for the Flathead and can help open the door to new jobs. Though the Flathead offers a tremendous breadth of activities, which contribute to a high quality of life, high-paying jobs are not as plentiful. Local economic growth has suffered as a result, but this can be changed.
To improve opportunities for local residents, we must attract employers offering year-round jobs and higher wages. Manufacturing provides just that: stable, higher paying, skilled employment – a foundation on which a community can flourish. As it grows, it serves as a magnet for more and better talent, ultimately creating a viable, competitive environment for manufacturers. One of the largest challenges Flathead Valley manufacturers face is transportation. Though the rail once provided a strong shipping resource for many local businesses, at present, access is essentially unavailable to those located off the tracks. Small manufacturers must use other, more expensive forms of transportation.
As a result, some local manufacturers pay up to 30% more overall for shipping than competitors based in outside markets. These freight rates often prevent local manufacturers from competing nationally and securing more business for the Flathead. Currently, manufacturers must fill an entire, 53-foot semi with product or ship using Less Than Truckload (LTL) freight, which is very costly. LTL shipping rates are 10-30% higher than full truckloads, eating into margins and making it expensive to operate in the Flathead. Local businesses risk losing a competitive edge by passing this cost on to customers. Instead, most choose to absorb it, which limits their customer base and potential growth. If manufacturing is to thrive locally, better freight options are critical.
The Glacier Rail Park is an important part of solving the Flathead’s shipping dilemma. Rail offers the option of shipping in containers that are much smaller – as short as 20 feet and only 38% of the volume of a full semi truck – a far more reasonable space for a small manufacturer to fill. More importantly, rail offers freight consolidation. Consolidation allows small manufacturers to combine their loads with others to major port destinations, where more shipping options exist to transfer freight to further and final destinations. This, combined with transloading, makes more affordable shipping possible in the Flathead. Transloading provides rail access to manufacturers not located at the rail park, allowing them to deliver and pick up freight from a shared dock at the rail park. To date, Flathead Valley businesses have not had this option. As shipping solutions such as rail consolidation and transloading emerge, local manufacturers can expand. The potential impacts of this increase are significant. Not only would manufacturing help drive economic growth, it complements the strength of our tourism industry and helps increase the Valley’s overall industrial base.
The Flathead offers so much, and can offer yet so much more. We must educate our community about opportunities in manufacturing, how it attracts more and better jobs, and how it would help strengthen Northwestern Montana’s position on the national stage. The Flathead is on the cusp of realizing the positive offerings that local manufacturing can provide, and our community needs to ensure its success.
The excitement of New Year’s Day 1892 is again in the air, and the railroad once more offers the potential for prosperity to the Flathead. It is important our community not miss the boat—or, in this case, the train. Our best years lie ahead.
Chris Parson is a Flathead Valley native and the Director of Manufacturing Advancement for the Flathead Valley Community College. The views of the author do not necessarily represent the views of his employer.