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Flathead County jobless rates fall below 10 percent

Published On: Apr 02 2013 07:56:55 PM MDT

The Flathead unemployment rate has dropped almost a full percentage point in the first two months of 2013, and employers are filling the boards at the Job Service in hopes of getting folks back to work.

Plum Creek employee Todd Shelling recalls the day when the Evergreen sawmill shut its doors in 2009, "It was a very stressful time. Not knowing what the future was going to hold. Of course the economy as bad as it was..."

Shelling and Garrison both had to leave their posts at sawmills in Evergreen and Fortine four years ago. They went through retraining and several different jobs as the lumber industry fell to its knees. Shelling drove in the oil fields and Garrison worked in retail.

"[It was] hard to leave my family, hard to leave friends, hard to leave the lifestyle this valley has to offer," said Shelling.

"It was a little bit worrisome but I knew the economy would pick back up," said Garrison. "I knew this plant would eventually start back up. You play a waiting game."

But recently, unemployment rates in the Flathead started to fall. The Job Service says in the first two months of 2013, that number has gone from 10.6 to 9.8 percent. 

"We're not too surprised by that drop," said Bill Nelson. "Employers are looking for employees too. So I think its across the board. We've seen a lot of improvement everywhere."

Employers like Plum Creek were looking, too. They reopened their Evergreen sawmill just last week and gave Garrison and Shelling a second chance to get back on the line.

"Overwhelming how happy most of us are to be back here. We've got such an incredible crew to start this place up again," said Shelling.

"I love it," Garrison explained. "This is what I do. I've been doing it for 25 years complete with sawmills. It's just a part of my life."

Nelson and the Job Service see a trend and look to the coming months to get more folks back to the valley doing what they love. 

"Last summer I think we got down into the mid 7 percent or so and we're hopeful that trend will continue and we'll see it drop below 7 percent this summer."