GREAT FALLS — For almost 50 years, the University of Montana’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research has been crossing the state sharing their findings on economic trends and what it means for treasure state residents. On Tuesday, the group presented their findings in Great Falls.
The Electric City was the first stop on the BBER’s 48th annual nine-city tour. When it comes to an economic forecast, Montana doesn’t differ much from the rest of the country.
“Inflation is clearly affecting Montana just like everyplace else,” said BBER Director Patrick Barkey. “In fact, it may be affecting us a little bit more so because we have high housing prices.”
Barkey says the Federal Reserve is aggressively trying to bring inflation under control and that could make for a much different economic story this year.
“We’re looking at a slowdown, something that might technically be a recession or maybe it will be a just a pretty dog-gone slow economy,” said Barkey.
Barkey says the large military presence in Great Falls provides a stabilizing economic force and the agricultural sector has shown promise.
But he cautions that a robust construction industry could soon change.
“We expect that to play out in 2023,” said Barkey. “We’re talking about interest rates being quite a bit higher. The time for getting free money so to speak for those projects is over.
Former BBER economist turned consultant Bryce Ward delivered the keynote address on what a new wave of in-migration means for Montana.
Ward is the founder of ABMJ Consulting. He says one major challenge facing Big Sky Country is how it will accommodate the supply side of the state to meet a rising demand brought on by a diverse influx of new residents.
“In particular we’ve attracted a lot of college educated, remote workers with higher incomes,” said Ward. “So more people, different people ran into a constrained housing supply and the prices of housing went up 60-percent at least in some places.”
Ward says prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, if Great Falls and the area to the east had been a state on it’s own, it would have been one of the slowest growing states in the country. Since the pandemic, it would be in the median.
And while Great Falls might not see growth like Bozeman or Kalispell, it’s still feeling the in-migration impacts.
“Even over here in Great Falls as more people come to Montana, it will spill into your hunting grounds and your fishing grounds and whatever else you like to do outside because once you’re here, you like to kind of travel around,” said Ward.
When it comes to travel and tourism, the report is cautiously optimistic for the upcoming year. A survey of Central Montana and Missouri River region business owners showed positive signs.
“70-percent of them had an increase in 2020 for their business. 31-percent expect an increase in 2023,” said Melissa Weddell, the director of UM’s Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research.
The economic outlook seminar will continue with stops around Montana through mid-March. Upcoming dates for the seminar:
Helena – Wednesday, Jan. 25, at the Delta Hotels Helena Colonial
Missoula – Friday, Jan. 27, at the Hilton Garden Inn
Billings – Tuesday, Jan. 31, at the Northern Hotel
Bozeman – Wednesday, Feb. 1, at the Commons
Butte – Thursday, Feb. 2, at the NorthWestern General Office
Kalispell – Tuesday, Feb. 7, at the Hilton Garden Inn
Sidney – Tuesday, March 14, at the MSU Richland County Extension Office
Miles City - Wednesday, March 15, at the Sleep Inn & Suites
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