Our area of Montana is growing at record pace. Population, cost of living and our economy are expanding as a result. Prospera has just released their annual economic report for Gallatin and Park Counties. And the data indicates that this trend will continue. The report can be viewed in its entirety at prosperaprofile.org.
Six takeaways from Prospera’s annual economic report
By Lewis Kendall Bozeman Daily Chronicle Mar 30, 2017
Bozeman-based economic development nonprofit Prospera Business Network on this week released its annual overview of Gallatin and Park counties.
Described as a “comprehensive description of the regional economy,” the 200-page report runs the gamut from demographic and transportation trends to area infrastructure and industry updates.
Below are a few relevant takeaways.
The area — and state — continue to grow
The Prospera report cites U.S. Census data that suggest the Gallatin Valley’s growth shows no sign of slowing.
Between 2000 and 2016, Gallatin County had the largest population increase in the state at nearly 53 percent. Last year, the county ranked 22nd in the nation in terms of growth rate.
As the Chronicle previously reported, roughly 80 percent of the county’s population gain between 2015 and 2016 came from the number of new arrivals exceeding the number of people leaving for other places, with the remainder stemming from a “natural increase,” or the difference between birth and death rates.
The county’s 3.7 percent growth rate is by far the fastest in the state. By comparison, Flathead County, the state’s second-fastest growing county, grew at a rate of 2 percent.
“Gallatin County is still one of the fastest-growing counties in the country, and certainly in the state,” said Prospera’s Executive Director Paul Reichert. “That definitely jumps out.”
According to projections released by the Montana Department of Commerce Census and Economic Information Center, Montana is expected to reach a population of nearly 1.3 million by 2060. In that time, the proportion of older residents — those age 65 and above — will nearly double, while the proportion of younger age groups is expected to decrease.
Gallatin County is expected to hit 145,000 residents by 2060.
Cost of living on the rise
As of April 2016, Bozeman’s overall cost of living was .4 percent below the national average based on data compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, housing (6.6 percent above the national average) and health care costs (3.9 percent above average) remain sticking points for many residents.
In 2014, median monthly housing costs for renters in both Gallatin County and Bozeman measured roughly $850, while costs for mortgaged homeowners sat at $1,560. The median sale price for a home in the county in 2016 was $309,000, up more than 8 percent from the year before.
The median rental cost in Livingston is $638 per month, while mortgage costs tally around $1,175. The median sale price for a single-family home in Park County in 2016 was $230,000, down more than 12 percent from 2015.
“Park County is less costly than Gallatin County, especially for renters, and similar to statewide costs. Livingston’s housing costs trail the Park County averages, and are increasingly appealing to workers willing to commute to and from the Bozeman area,” the report reads.
Notably, Bozeman was the only area measured in the report — including Montana and the United States as a whole — that has more renter-occupied (9,200) than owner-occupied (7,350) housing units.
“We know that Bozeman is a juggernaut in the region, but it will be really interesting for the two counties moving forward to see how it plays out, with Bozeman’s booming growth and Livingston’s stability,” said Prospera’s Program Director Drew Little, who compiled the report.
Wages and income are still lagging, particularly in Park County
At 76 percent the U.S. average, wages across the state are still well below national levels. Additionally, Montana ranks 49th in average earnings per job, as well as 38th in per capita income.
Gallatin County’s average annual pay of $39,500 ranks it 14th in the state, while Park County ($32,000) ranks 42nd out of 56 counties.
Taking into account margin of error, both median household income and per capita personal income in Park County also fall short of national levels. At $25,800, per capita income was nearly $3,000 below the U.S. mark, while the area’s household income ($42,500) was more than $10,000 less than the national median.
The only town in the county that measured at or above national levels was Cooke City.
However, there is some good news. Montana ranked sixth in the nation in terms of wage growth between 2005 and 2015, according to the state Department of Labor and Industry. The average annual wage grew by nearly $11,000 during that period and $1,170 over the last year, the department reported.
Retail and service power the local economy
Retail trade remains the largest employer in Gallatin County, supplying the jobs for roughly 9,000 of the area’s 62,000 workers, followed by accommodation and food services. The construction industry, which took a nosedive during the Recession, has bounced back over the past five years to become the county’s third-largest employer.
In Park County, employment numbers are flatter, with retail, farming and construction ranking as the area’s top three job providers.
In recent years, manufacturing employment in Montana has increased faster than the national rate, the report notes. The industry employs 3,600 workers in Gallatin County and 515 in Park County.
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Additionally, nonprofits account for $749 million in economic impact in Gallatin County and $71 million in Park County.
Non-labor income also continues to expand
A diverse statistic that includes investments and age-related benefits such as Medicare or Social Security, as well as hardship-related benefits such as Medicaid, the report describes non-labor income as “one of the largest and fastest-growing sources of income in the West.”
Non-labor income made up more than 36 percent of total personal income in Gallatin County in 2015, according to data gathered by local think tank Headwaters Economics, a measure comparable to the nationwide proportion.
In Park County, the share is nearly 50 percent, up from one third in 1970.
“Non-labor income is a mixed bag,” Little said. “It certainly diversifies the income in an area. It can also help stabilize the income in an area where industries take a hit or unforeseen circumstances (occur). Especially in rural areas, it’s one of those influencing hands that we don’t really see.”
Organic agriculture gains popularity while farming struggles
While the current glut of several staple Montana crops such as wheat has caused consternation among local farmers, many are moving toward organic practices.
The value of organic commodity sales in Montana in 2014 was $43.7 million, up 72 percent since 2008. With 318,000 acres of farmland dedicated to organic production, the state now ranks second in the nation behind California for total organic acreage.
However, farm jobs — in the Gallatin Valley at least — are stagnant.
The report can be viewed in its entirety at prosperaprofile.org.