Vast open spaces and breathtaking panoramas have come to define the great state of Montana. This majestic part of the U.S. is home to over one million residents, most of whom live in cities and towns, each with their own unique character and economy.
Our brokers Peter Dunn and Lance Sasser recently came back from a roadshow throughout this great state with boots-on-the-ground insights into the six largest communities. What follows is a summary of the economic growth they observed.
Missoula: A Tale of 2 College Towns
Missoula is finally experiencing growth following the impact of the Great Recession and the closing of the largest manufacturing facility in the state. Home to the University of Montana, Missoula is the second largest college town in the state but pales in comparison to the growth in Bozeman, which has seen increased enrollment at Montana State University.
Bozeman: Yellowstone Club/Big Sky Growth Significantly Impacts all Walks of Life
Gallatin County continues to be the growth leader statewide by a large margin and is on track to pass Missoula County to become the second most populated county in Montana. With all this growth comes booming construction. Yellowstone Club, Spanish Peaks and the Big Sky communities have more ongoing construction than all of Montana combined despite having the highest construction costs in the state.
This rapid growth is causing a strain on the workforce population. Retailers are struggling to fill positions as workers demand higher wages for entry level jobs.
Billings: Largest Trade Area in the West
With a trade area that includes 125,000 square miles and over 500,000 people, Billings continues as the largest trade and service center in the west. Major retailers report having higher store sales than the national average which is a testament to the vast trade area. Billings also benefits from an unemployment rate that is almost always lower than the national average.
Helena: The Hidden Gem in Montana, Beautiful and Affordable (For Now)
The benefit of being primarily a government town is the stability that comes from government employers, which helped Helena avoid the worst of the Great Recession with unemployment peaking at 5.5%, almost half of the national average. The city has also experienced growth in the private sector with Bay Area tech firms, like SoFi, expanding into the city with over 140 employees.
Helena offers recreation and lifestyle options similar to that of Bozeman, Missoula, and Kalispell, but with more affordable home prices. As remote workers flock to Montana, Helena is in a position to market itself as one of the most desirable places to live in the state.
Great Falls: Low Growth, Steady Economy on the Banks of the Missouri River
Once the largest city in Montana not all that long ago, the Great Falls region is most notable for its economic stability and slow growth. Malmstrom Air Force Base is the major economic driver, employing over 4,000 residents and making up an estimated 40% of the local economy.
Butte: Everyone Should Visit here at Least Once in their Lifetime
At the height of the mining era, Butte boasted the largest population between Minneapolis and Seattle with over 100,000 residents. The Butte economy has quietly diversified away from mining, but the heritage is still relevant with mining representing over 41% of economic activity.