By Amanda Eggert EBS Associate Editor

BIG SKY – There were times during the Big Sky Job Fair on Sept. 20 when employers looking for help outnumbered prospective employees.

According to Kari Gras, who organized the fair, 10 employers signed on in search of employees. Open positions ran the gamut: part-time, full-time, seasonal, year-round, entry-level, managerial—the list goes on.

Representatives from companies in construction, property management, hospitality, retail, and food and beverage answered questions in a Buck’s T-4 conference room and passed out applications to a handful of job seekers milling about.

Gras produced the fair on behalf of the company she owns, Gras HR Consulting. She said timing wasn’t ideal for last year’s fair, so she hosted this one earlier in hopes of lining up winter employment for existing residents, before they leave the area during the quiet fall months.

About 15 jobseekers signed in during the course of the fair, more than the previous year, Gras said. “I know several people have gotten interviews, but I’m not sure about placement,” she added.

One company, Sportsman’s Warehouse, sent two staff members from Bozeman in search of help. Employees are hard to find there, too; the Montana Department of Labor and Industry put the August 2016 unemployment rate at 2.3 percent in Gallatin County, among the lowest in the state.

“I never stop looking,” said Sportsman’s Warehouse Manager Dave Newborg. “It’s tough. We get a lot of applicants, but it’s either not who we’re looking for, or [it’s] somebody who’s looking for something we’re [not hiring for].”

Stan Register heard about the job fair through Bozeman Job Services and said he came specifically because he heard some employers in attendance would provide housing. “I’m going to make it clear to everybody here that I will not commute [Highway 191] and they have to help me find housing,” Register said during a break from filling out applications.

Most of the jobs Register looked at in Bozeman were in the service industry. A $10 to $11 wage doesn’t stretch far if you pay $400 a month for a room in a shared house, he said. “Making that work is difficult.”

Dave Brodie also made the rounds on Sept. 20, casually speaking with employers. The Big Sky resident’s wife died a couple of years ago and he figured picking up part-time work locally might be a good move. “I’m looking for something recreationally,” Brodie said.

“They’ve got good packages as far as winter benefits go,” Brodie said of the employers present. “Given that people are willing to drive up from Bozeman to hire people … shows you how tight employee housing is.”

Organizations’ needs varied. The Big Sky Fire Department was looking to fill just one position—for an administrative assistant—while a representative from Spanish Peaks Mountain Club said they were looking to hire about 50 people for the winter.

Jackie Robin, who owns the Hungry Moose Market and Deli with her husband Mark, said the Moose’s needs are flexible and the company is trying to support a core of solid staff members. She said she would find a good fit for the right person.

“We’re just looking for people with potential and work ethic,” Robin said. “And we have housing—that’s something that is unique in a way to small businesses. We have one [staff] condo and we’ve added a second. We’re doing everything we can.”