Where Did Montana Office Spaces Go?
Unoccupied office buildings, single floors, entire complexes of now-vacant call centers. They've become less of a common sight in the Treasure State since COVID-19. Why do we have fewer empty offices than we used to, or did we have that many to begin with?
The Aftermath of a Pandemic
In what some call "The Great Resignation" in which many industries saw employees leave their jobs en masse, it was more of a "Great Reassessment" as employees left for jobs that not only paid better but allowed for hybrid or fully remote work schedules. Those employees are now saving time and money by not putting unpaid miles on their vehicles.
The latest data available showed the average commute times in the following Montana cities:
- Missoula - 15 minutes
- Bozeman - 18 minutes
- Helena - 17 minutes
- Great Falls - 16.5 minutes
Multiply those commute times by two (to work, from work) multiply that by five (for an average work week) and then multiply that by 52 weeks in a year. That's a lot of unpaid hours just getting to the office before any work is done, and it's only one of the reasons why employees are seeking better benefits and pay elsewhere.
Technology companies based in other states fared much better than any other industry in America during the worst times of COVID-19: firms like Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Apple were able to allow the majority of their staff to work from home while we tried to stop the spread of the disease. Other industries that have employed WFH include the banking sector, law firms, and IT support.
Comparing Montana's Cities To The Rest Of The U.S.
According to Missoula-based commercial real estate broker Katie Ward, Missoula is an outlier because office space was scarce in the city even before COVID:
In Missoula we really haven't seen any sort of decline because we don't have very many vacant buildings. In Missoula we don't have big corporations, we don't have the big open vacant spaces like you see in all the other cities. We have absolutely very little office [space] available and not very much retail either.
There are a few companies coming here and what they're looking for is some office, some warehouse, some distribution...not just straight office.
Office, warehouse, distribution...add those together to create "light industry" companies; those that sell directly to the consumer. Ward also noted that the remodeling of downtown Missoula buildings has led to higher rents for business tenants.
This former Missoula-based State Farm insurance office now sits vacant.
Bozeman Real Estate Group's Jessy Gustafson told me that while Bozeman has more office space available, it's not the hot ticket item for more agile businesses:
What we're seeing is more offices with cubicle settings...there's still quite a bit out there but what's going a lot faster is warehouses. People want a smaller one-man office, they don't want these big office spaces that are available that can house thirty or forty people.
2,400 square feet of commercial real estate in Bozeman, MT. The listing is HERE
Montana enjoys a work climate that relies less on jobs that can be done remotely, hence we'll likely see even fewer "warehouses for workers" as building owners get creative with their spaces. We hope that the future businesses taking up residence in those spaces will provide good-paying jobs for Montanans.
24 Missoula Businesses That Have Closed in the Last Two Years