Credit: hoto courtesy Montana governor’s office

Montana Department of Labor & Industry official Sarah Swanson has been named the department’s new commissioner by Gov. Greg Gianforte, the governor’s office announced Thursday.

Swanson has served as the labor department’s director of strategic engagement, a role the governor’s office says was focused on workforce development efforts intended to educate workers to match the needs of Montana employers. She also previously served as chief of staff for the Montana Office of Public Instruction, owned a John Deere dealership chain in northeast Montana and led a workforce development initiative through the Montana Contractors and Equipment Dealers associations.

Gianforte’s prior labor commissioner, Laurie Esau, resigned last month following an alleged hit-and-run collision and subsequent DUI arrest in Missoula.

“As a proven leader in both the private and public sectors, Sarah is a champion for reimagining workforce development and building sustainable public-private partnerships to empower hardworking Montanans,” Gianforte said in a written statement. “I look forward to partnering with her to build a stronger future for our state.”

Swanson, originally from Valley County in northeast Montana, said in a statement that she was “humbled” by the appointment.


“As a former small business owner, I personally understand the significance of meeting payroll, caring for employee needs, helping rural communities survive, and struggling to find qualified employees,” she said. “I look forward to working hand-in-hand with DLI’s dedicated team, industry partners, and Montana workers to continue to address the long-standing disconnect between employers and education, to modernize IT systems, and to deliver meaningful red-tape relief to Main Street.”

The state labor department administers a number of programs intended to support Montana workers and businesses, including professional licenses, job placement services and the state’s unemployment insurance program. It is one of 12 cabinet-level agencies in state government.

Other labor department programs include the Montana Human Rights Bureau, which adjudicates discrimination complaints, as well as programs involved with industrial safety, workers’ compensation and enforcing prevailing wage laws.

Department chief of staff John Elizandro has been serving as interim labor commissioner. The governor’s office said Swanson will assume the role Monday, Aug. 14.


Eric came to journalism in a roundabout way after studying engineering at Montana State University in Bozeman (credit, or blame, for his career direction rests with the campus's student newspaper, the Exponent). He has worked as a professional journalist in Montana since 2013, with stints at the Great Falls Tribune, Bozeman Daily Chronicle, and Solutions Journalism Network before joining the Montana Free Press newsroom in Helena full time in 2019.