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University of Montana economists tout Billings economy during stop

"Finding good workers" tour moving through Montana
Posted at 3:08 PM, Feb 05, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-05 17:08:41-05

Economists with the University of Montana touted Billings' economic health during a Tuesday luncheon at the Northern Hotel.

Patrick Barkey, the University of Montana Bureau of Business and Economic Research director, said Billings has had good construction activity, a healthy real estate sector and financial institutions that are doing well.

"Billings is the most diverse and is the state's biggest economy and has put up a pretty good year of growth," Barkey said. "There's a core here in Billings that again addresses that large regional geography clearly physical products that super important. Billings is a super important transportation hub, very important with housing distribution and so forth. It's those kinds of industries that have been up and down. You have the energy industries with the refineries here, and you have healthcare which has been a huge medical carrier, largest medical care system by far in the state."

Barkey is part of a UM group of experts touring Montana for their 45th annual economic outlook series.

The Billings stop is one of 10 this year for the economic outlook series tour, which is focused on "Finding Good Workers" and examined the challenges of finding good workers for businesses and organizations.

The research economists presented national, state and local economic forecasts and gave their outlook for Montana’s important sectors, including tourism, health care, real estate and housing.

And when it comes to real estate development? Barkey said Billings is a little more "normal" than other areas. He said the story of housing in Billings is pretty much the same as the state.

"That is it has been disappointing how much home building there has been. There's been some push up in the multi family and fall back, but the real increase that we expected to be because of the run-up in prices has not really occurred much in Montana," said Barkey. "The signs toward the end of 2019 that, that was going to change. The way I look at home building is, it's kind of the wild card for growth. If we look at home building break out to where we thought it should be for the last three of four years, if we do see that home construction break out, then I think it will be a much bigger year for the economy in 2020. “

The group's next stop is Bozeman, and the tour will end March 18 in Lewistown.