Some of the employers in Montana’s capital are finding its labor market painfully tight. Restaurant operator Shalon Hastings said that more than once this fall, she came close to not opening Taco Del Sol for lunch business because she did not have enough help. Hastings said she enjoys “working the line,” making tacos and burritos, but staffing shortages have her doing it more often than she wants. “If I could cut my time on the line by 50 percent, I’d be feeling good about the business and could concentrate on what’s next,” said Hastings, who would like more time to figure out ways of improving her business and perhaps open a second restaurant. Hastings starts workers at $6 an hour, giving small increases quickly if a new hire proves reliable. She hopes a flexible schedule, enjoyable workplace and free lunch help make working for her attractive. At the Power Townsend home improvement store in Helena, owner Mike Wall said the labor market is “way tighter” than it was five years ago. Wall responds by seeking older workers, people he said are experienced, have good attitudes and are more likely to keep the job than are younger people. “It used to be much easier to find people, but unemployment is low all over Montana,” said Wall, who has about 85 employees. “Here, the state is expanding, the federal government is expanding at (Fort Harrison) and the airport, and then there’s all this new retail.” Citywide, retailers already hard pressed to recruit and retain workers are bracing for the November opening of a Costco discount store. The magazine Fortune recently described Costco’s wages and benefits as “the envy of big-box employees nationwide.” A Lowe’s home improvement store is set to open soon after Costco. The two chains combined will add 250 jobs in Helena, the Independent Record reported. Employment listings in the newspaper’s classified advertising section grew 16 percent in the last year. “That is a trend we’ve seen the last couple of years, and given the growing economy of the region, we expect to see similar growth this year,” advertising manager Jim Rickman said. In Lewis and Clark County, of which Helena is the seat, the unemployment rate has hovered around 3.7 percent the past several years, a bit lower than the statewide rate, according to the Montana Department of Labor and Industry. Economists often consider a rate between 4 percent and 5 indicative of full employment, meaning that everyone who wants a job has one. “It’s a seller’s market for labor,” said economist Brad Eldredge of the labor department. Workers “are going to be able to have more bargaining power than they would otherwise, and what you would expect over time is for wages to be driven up.” Wage increases in Helena have trailed those in some other Montana labor markets. Eldredge notes that state government’s failure, a few years ago, to provide significant pay raises for its employees affected thousands of working people in Helena. That likely restrained overall wage growth, despite the tight labor market, he said.