Missoula will see stable, subtle growth

2013-12-22T00:00:00Z Missoula will see stable, subtle growthALICE MILLER Missoulian The Billings Gazette
December 22, 2013 12:00 am  • 

MISSOULA – Missoulians can expect more of the same when it comes to the 2014 economy, subtle growth.

“I think the trajectory is up for Missoula,” said Patrick Barkey, director of the University of Montana’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research.

The recovery hasn’t been pronounced, though, Barkey said, adding that the economic decline wasn’t dramatic, but it was lengthy and the recovery has been muted.

Montana as a whole is doing better than the nation, he said.

“The bad part of that story is that the U.S. really is not doing well,” Barkey said. 

Budget cuts at Missoula-area hospitals and the University of Montana are areas of concern for Missoula’s economy going into 2014, said Larry Swanson, director of the O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West.

Cutbacks at Providence St. Patrick Hospital and Community Medical Center — to the tune of roughly $8 million — will moderate growth in employment and labor earnings, especially considering that the health care sector is Missoula County’s biggest generator of labor income, Swanson said.

Nonetheless, the health care sector will continue to grow overall, largely because of the area’s growing elderly population and their medical needs, Swanson predicted. The Affordable Care Act’s mandated health insurance coverage also should help, he said.

Cuts at the University of Montana, necessitated by enrollment declines, also will slow the area’s economic recovery.

“These cuts will ripple through and negatively impact the Missoula-area economy, particularly when combined with cutbacks by Missoula’s major hospitals,” Swanson said in a recent report.

The construction sector also has been slow to recover from the recession, although 2013 saw growth and that’s expected to continue through 2014, according to Swanson.

Jobs and income will continue to grow in Missoula’s professional, technical, financial and business service areas, similar to national trends, he said.

Although manufacturing as a whole is expected to experience little growth, Missoula’s microbreweries have shown steady growth, Swanson said.

Also in 2014, Missoula will continue to benefit from the quality of life it offers in attracting population and economic growth, he said, adding that tourism is growing and bringing money and visibility to the area.

“The region offers a lot in terms of environmental amenities and quality of life and this will be a prime driver in our economy,” he said.

Other sectors of the economy also are improving, including transportation and the financial sector, Barkey said.

Adding to construction growth will be millions of dollars in planned commercial construction, said James Grunke, president and CEO of the Missoula Economic Partnership.

Grunke estimated that as much as $100 million could flow into the area economy from large projects, including construction of a new Missoula College and development in the Old Sawmill District and Riverfront Triangle areas.

“It should be a tremendous shot in the arm for the economy,” he said.

Startup business growth is also likely to continue, building off of 2013’s successes, particularly technology-related firms, Grunke said.

“I think we’re going to really see some critical mass in entrepreneurship happening in the next year,” Grunke said.

Although manufacturing hasn’t recovered well elsewhere in the nation, Grunke remained optimistic about potential growth here, using a multimillion-dollar expansion planned at Roseburg Forest Products’ manufacturing facility as an example. Strong interest in the old Bonner Mill site also continues, he said.

“I think this is the first year we’re really going to feel the economy is back on track” he said.

Missoulian reporter Alice Miller can be reached at 523-5251 or at alice.miller@missoulian.com.

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