Whitefish Chamber Thursday Update: Feb. 25, 2021
In this issue
  • Whitefish Mountain Resort & North Valley Food Bank need your help to 'Lift-Up Against Hunger' ... this Saturday!
  • RSVP today for next week's '12@12' member roundtable
  • Legislative updates -- J-1 Work Program, Amtrak service, COVID liability, affordable housing & more
  • Dream Adaptive Recreation to host its annual Snow Ball fundraiser this weekend ... online!
Your help's needed ... this Saturday!
Ski Area, Food Bank
team-up to 'Lift-Up'

       It's no secret that the staff and volunteers at the North Valley Food Bank have been pushed to the very limit this year, as hundreds of families who never dreamed they'd need help have found themselves in line outside our local food bank on distribution days.

     In an effort to help keep the Food Bank's shelves stocked through the winter season, our friends at Whitefish Mountain Resort are asking for your help as they try to "Lift-Up Against Hunger" this Saturday on Big Mountain.

     Ski area staffers at all points of sale -- lift ticket counters, the rental shop, food & drink checkout, etc. -- will be asking guests if they'd like to add a small donation to the Food Bank to their tab ... and Whitefish Mountain Resort will match those donations up to $5,000.

     So hit the slopes on Saturday, and help North Valley Food Bank help the folks who're most in need in our community.  For more info, visit skiwhitefish.com/foodbank.
Next Wednesday at Noon
RSVP today for
'12@12' -- Round 2!

     If you've been missin' Gone Fishin' -- and the opportunity to network with other small business owners and the Chamber staff --  the Chamber's new "12@12" member roundtable series is right up your alley!

     The concept is simple -- bring together a dozen different Chamber members each month to share a virtual lunch, talk a bit about their business and the issues they're facing, and get a quick update from the Chamber staff on what's happening in the business community.  Our first 12@12 of the year was a big hit with those lucky enough to get a seat a few weeks back, and Round 2 is set for next Wednesday -- March 3 -- at High Noon.

     If you'd like to attend, you're in luck ... as of this minute I've still got eight seats available!  But you need to act fast, otherwise you'll wind up on the waiting list for our April 7 get-together.  To save your spot, email kevin@whitefishchamber.org.  I'll get back to you with the Zoom link ... and we'll see you next week!
The latest from Helena and Washington D.C.
J-1 Worker program back this summer,
Amtrak service a 'work in progress'

     The Legislative Season is in full swing at the state capitol in Helena and in Washington D.C., with several bills affecting Whitefish moving forward ... for better or worse.

     Two of the Chamber's top legislative priorities in 2021 are the restoration of both the J-1 Work/Travel Visa Program and daily Amtrak service on the Empire Builder, and we appear to be making progress on both fronts.

     Last month the Chamber joined with hundreds of other organizations nationwide in pushing for reinstatement of the so-called J-1 Worker Program, which typically provides more than a thousand international workers to employers throughout the Whitefish/Glacier National Park area.  The program was suspended last Spring with COVID-19 on the rise worldwide, and the absence of J-1 workers made hiring -- and keeping -- seasonal summertime staff more difficult than ever.  

     Fortunately, the J-1s will be back this summer, according to Senator Steve Daines' office.  The order that suspended the program is set to run-out in March, and the Biden Administration has indicated that it intends to let the order expire.

Restoring Amtrak to 'full service' may take time
    Efforts to restore daily service on the Empire Builder -- the Amtrak passenger rail line that connects Whitefish with Seattle and Portland on the West Coast, and Chicago to the east -- are also moving ahead, if a bit more slowly.  Both of Montana's senators have been actively pushing for restoration of daily service, which was cut to 3 days/week last October in the face of the COVID crisis.

     Tuesday, Sen. Jon Tester introduced a bill in the U.S. Senate that would reinstate furloughed Amtrak employees and return the Empire Builder to full, 7-day/week service.  Representatives from both Tester and Daines' offices tell us that they're hopeful the Administration will support the bill, though it's too early to tell when full service could be restored on Montana's only passenger rail line.

COVID liability passes; workforce housing program threatened
     One of the first bills signed this Session by Gov. Greg Gianforte was SB 85 -- the COVID Liability protection act -- which was supported by the Chamber in an effort to protect local businesses and other organizations from frivolous lawsuits related to COVID-19 as we continue to re-open the Montana economy.  So put one in the win column!

     On the flip side of the coin, a bill currently making its way through the state Legislature -- House Bill 259 -- seeks to ban so-called "Inclusionary Zoning" programs like the one we're using in Whitefish to spur the development of homes and apartments that are affordable to our large service industry workforce.

      If approved, HB 259 would effectively gut the Strategic Workforce Housing Plan that was created in 2016-17 by the City, the Chamber and Housing Authority, and send Whitefish "back to the drawing board" in our efforts to help house hundreds of local workers who -- due to the explosive local real estate market -- cannot afford to live in the community they work.

Support workforce housing -- and let our Senators know!
     Six years ago, our members told us that affordable workforce housing was one of the biggest challenges they faced in trying to attract -- and retain -- staff for their business.  The housing shortage has become even more critical in recent years, shining a spotlight on the need for a community-based solution to the situation.

     If you support our efforts to stabilize our workforce and provide affordable homes and apartments for the working men, women and families of Whitefish, CLICK HERE and tell members of the Senate Local Government Committee to vote against HB 259 when it comes before them next week.  

     Near the bottom of the form, choose to have the email sent to a committee, and designate the Senate Local Government Committee as the recipient.  Make sure you identify the bill -- HB 259 -- and tell them why you support Whitefish's effort to house our workforce, and to use Inclusionary Zoning to do just that.   
Annual fundraiser set for March 5
Dream Adaptive's 'Snow Ball' goes virtual!

     Adapting is what Dream Adaptive Recreation is all about, so it'll come as no surprise that the local non-profit has "adapted" to COVID-19 by taking it's annual Snow Ball fundraiser online, and planning a one-of-a-king live streamed-event for Friday March 5 ... just one week away!

     If you know the folks at Dream, you know this won't be some run-of-the-mill Zoom meeting ... beginning with the Virtual Happy Hour from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.!  Enjoy some snacks, a libation of your own choosing (and making), and live music by Big City Lights.  The Main Event starts at 6:30 p.m. -- a one hour show that'll include a live auction, more great music, updates from Dream's staff, volunteers and athletes, and an opportunity to "chat" with other attendees.

     CLICK HERE to get the full rundown and register for what promises to be a fun -- and worthwhile -- event!