Thursday, October 28, 2010

Off course

Posted on Thu, Oct 28, 2010 at 4:00 AM

Mike Jopek of Whitefish recently wrote that Montana is a good place to be in business (see “Driven to metaphors,” Letters, Sept. 16, 2010). So he says we should stay the course. Among his claims are that low wages and an idle workforce gives us a competitive advantage. It was pretty good rhetoric but, unfortunately, it doesn’t match the record.

The reality is these are tough times for Montanans. Staying the course doesn’t offer much consolation to the folks who have lost their jobs over the last several months and are trying to figure out how to make ends meet. In Jopek’s backyard alone, the unemployment rate continues to be in double digits, CFAC has shut down, Plum Creek has cut its workforce in half and closed mills in Pablo and Ksanka, and Smurfitt Stone is in bankruptcy.

Here are some important facts: The Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council rated our business climate 33rd. They say our workers compensation rates are 50th and our unemployment rates are 45th. CNBC puts us 36th. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce rates Montana’s legal climate for businesses at 43rd. Forbes identifies our regulatory environment at 47th and growth prospects at 45th. Not much to cheer about.

The last five and half years have been the slowest period of job growth for Montana in the last quarter century. Presently there are more unemployed Montanans than ever before. And all the while government has been growing by leaps and bounds. Spending projections for this year are 81 percent higher than 2004. That doesn’t fall within my definition of prudence. It’s also not a path we can sustain.

We need to do better. And we can. We can better manage the budget for the present cyclical downturn. We can challenge the structural barriers to growth. We can identify and promote our comparative advantages in the market place. We can attract more investments.

Clearly we need a better direction. Rather than talking about Ds and Rs, Montanans want our elected leaders to set aside their partisan rhetoric and work together to tackle these difficult problems so that we can all enjoy a more prosperous future and make Montana the Treasure State again.

Rick Hill

Former U.S. congressman

Helena

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