Feb 2, 2011 1:10 PM by Dan Boyce
Speaking to a packed room at the Best Western GranTree Inn, economists with the University of Montana Bureau of Business and Economic Research said they were more optimistic about Gallatin County over the coming four years than anywhere else in the state.
This statement was made during the Bureau's Economic Outlook Seminar, an annual presentation made in many communities across the state.
"We're forecasting relatively strong growth in the 2011-2014 period," said Bureau Director Emeritus Dr. Paul Polzin.
Gallatin County's growth is predicted to hover right around 3.4 percent annually. The Bureau predicts Montana's average growth over the same time period at 2.3 percent annually.
In the years leading up to the Great Recession (2001-2007), Gallatin County and Flathead County stood as the fastest growing areas in the state. This situation reversed completely beginning in 2008. The Gallatin and Flathead economies contracted the most sharply of any major counties in Montana.
The two counties are not predicted to emerge from the recession along the same track, however. Flathead County is not predicted to grow nearly as quickly.
"Even though Gallatin County declined during the last recession," Polzin said. "Its basic industries did not take a hit."
Construction bore the brunt of the recession in the Gallatin Valley. That was also true of the Flathead, but that county's more basic industries, such as wood products, suffered permanent closures.
The Gallatin area still faces serious challenges even with the rosier outlook. Polzin said the construction industry lost about half its jobs.
"How can you keep the labor force, the construction workers here, so they can benefit from the recovery?" Polzin asked.
"We've got to find a way to transition those people who have lost their jobs, probably permanently, into something else," said Bozeman Mayor Jeff Krauss in an interview outside the seminar.
Krauss advocates putting more resources into the region's new two year technical school, the Gallatin College Programs at MSU.
"(We need) those two-year programs that convert people in the construction industry into those other industries we saw (in the seminar)," Krauss said.
Krauss said this labor force could be transitioned particularly into manufacturing, which is the county's second strongest economic component, and the retail trade center, the third strongest component.
MSU and state government jobs stand as the most important component of the Gallatin County economy.
Polzin said he agrees two year education is always a good option to retrain people for short term changes in the work force. But he says he's not sure how well that will work for the construction industry.
"I'll have to ponder that one," Polzin said.