By LISA BAUMANN
HELENA, Mont. (AP) _ Montana ranks fifth in the country for employment growth, but it faces slower growth in the future as many members of an aging workforce retire, state officials said Friday.
The Department of Labor and Industry’s Labor Day report shows the unemployment rate has dropped steadily since 2010. At 4.6 percent, it’s now the 11th lowest in the nation.
“Businesses have created more than 12,000 jobs in the first part of 2014, and that’s truly a record-breaking pace for our state,” Gov. Steve Bullock said in presenting the report. “We have job growth in every single industry sector in the state except for government employees.”
Despite low overall unemployment numbers, many American Indians in the state still face much higher unemployment, with the highest jobless rate on the Crow Reservation at nearly 25 percent. There was job growth on five of Montana’s seven reservations, however, and several tribes saw lower unemployment rates, according to Lt. Gov. Angela McLean.
“It’s minimal growth, but it’s there, and there’s a lot of momentum,” she said.
Some of that momentum, McLean said, is coming from the work on an economic development plan the Democratic governor released this year called the Main Street Montana Project. The plan identifies five key areas for businesses to grow in the state: workforce training, improving the business climate, marketing the state, nurturing emerging industries and building on Montana’s economic foundation.
Overall, the state added 7,880 jobs last year. The health care industry remains a main driver with more than 8,000 jobs added since 2007. The industry, which provides above-average salaries, is expected to need many workers in the future, the report said.
Above-average job growth is expected to continue through 2015, and then it could slow due to retiring workers. About 27 percent of Montana’s workforce is 55 or older, and impending retirements could reduce the state’s labor force by 137,000 workers, the report said. The group of young people entering the workforce is not large enough to make up for the number of retirements, so businesses will need to take steps to improve worker productivity, according to the report.
Montana’s economic growth will depend on the state’s ability to increase technology, productivity and innovation, the report said.
“We’re committed to continuing our work with the private sector to ensure we’re supporting business, job and wage growth in every corner of our state,” said Pam Bucy, Commissioner of Labor and Industry.