Montana’s most populated county may be reaching an economic equilibrium following a drop in oil prices in 2014 thanks to a strong base of manufacturing support services.
Bureau of Business and Economic Research Director Patrick Barkey says prior to the oil price bust, Yellowstone County was almost exactly in line with the state economy.
“And then things went a little wobbly here locally,” Barkey says.
Barkey told a crowd of roughly 140 people attending the BBER's Economic Outlook Seminar that’s because Billings and Yellowstone County tend to follow the economic successes and failures of eastern Montana, Wyoming and the Dakotas.
“Those are not real stars in terms of growth lately. They’ve hit some turbulence with coal and energy and ag and so forth,” Barkey says.
But Barkey says the Yellowstone County economy has been performing better in recent years.
“There are some very significantly high-paying jobs in mining support services here in Yellowstone County and those feed the local economy because those people live here, even if the mines that they support are ultimately outside the economy. And even though that’s not a large part of what drives the economy, in terms of its impact on the last couple of years, that has been a very good size,” Barkey says.
He says some of the other driving sectors include healthcare, construction and manufacturing.
He says there’s also been an improvement in the oil industry in eastern Montana and while the recent closures of two of the four Colstrip power plant units may affect the county economy, BBER expects a positive economic future.
"So we’re saying that Yellowstone County’s gonna resume its position that it’s had for a number of years of growing higher than the state average while right after the price bust, that wasn’t the case,” Barkey says.
He says BBER expects improvement in otherwise poor areas, like retail and wholesale distribution, and further growth in healthcare.
BBER has been holding economic meetings throughout the state addressing regional economies in recent weeks including in Helena, Great Falls and Missoula.
The next summits are in Bozeman, Butte, Kalispell, Havre, Lewistown and Big Sky.