Bigfork Economic Development Roundtable

Bigfork Chamber of Commerce Newsletter | 1/2019 | Kim Morisaki |

I applaud Bigfork in its efforts to encourage community discussion around big issues with their monthly economic development roundtables.  Open to everyone and taking place on the first Tuesday of every month at 8:15 am at the High School Community Room this group is looking to identify ways for Bigfork to prosper. Broadband and Housing are regular topics.  Big issues with no quick or easy fixes, both of these challenges are going to require multi-layer solutions with businesses, individuals and organization cooperating to make changes that will address the community’s needs.  Discussing the problem, in order to identify what resources are needed to overcome the obstacle, is the first step.

This year the group will look at workforce housing and the solutions that other communities around the country are using to address the issue.  Some solutions might require a change in our pre-conceived notions about what constitutes “housing”. I lived in Japan for 11 years and their assumptions about what is required to keep a roof over one’s head and the heat on is drastically different from ours.  Multi-generational households, dormitories for company employees and company housing of all types and sizes can be found in every village, town and metropolis. Housing isn’t necessarily subsidized by the company, but the company makes it available in order to insure that their workers don’t have to waste time and energy struggling to find a place to live. By owning it themselves companies are able to reduce certain costs that cause housing prices to rise. Studio apartments with a kitchenette are standard for singles and even newly married couples.  My first apartment in Japan was less than 10’ x 30’ (300 square feet) with a tiny washing machine on the narrow balcony outside where I hung my laundry to dry.  Kind of explains Marie Kondo, doesn’t it? My best friend lived there with me for 6 weeks.  It was great!  I lived there for two years until I moved to a “big” apartment on the shopping arcade where I had about 450 square feet and room for a tiny couch – my sister lived with me there for a semester.  I regularly had parties at both of these places! I traveled all the time and I never had to choose between paying rent and making my student loan payment.

My point is that perhaps we are at a point where we need a shift of mindset – “how we have always done it” might not be the out-of-the-box solution we need for the future.   Solutions might require changes at every level; renters, landlords, home-buyers, real estate agents, city and county planners, neighbors and business owners. Density might not be a four-letter word! And we might need to plan our transportation system accordingly.

In February there will be an in-depth presentation of Montana housing trends.  The University of Montana’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research annual Economic Outlook Seminar will be in Kalispell at the Hilton Garden Inn on February 12th.  The half day seminar runs from 7:45am – noon and includes lunch.  For policy wonks and data geeks the $90 is well spent as it will provide in-depth details about the state and local economies and Montana housing trends.  Register at www.economicoutlookseminar.com.