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Economists showcase Montana’s strengths and weaknesses

Posted at 9:40 PM, Jan 29, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-30 11:44:07-05

HELENA – The Bureau of Business and Economic Research (BBER) is holding their annual Economic Outlook Seminar series over the next few weeks.

Now in its 44th year, the seminar highlights the latest economic trends for local economies and the state of Montana.

This year’s theme is “Facing the Challenge of Affordable Housing” with speakers noting that housing prices have been rising faster than household incomes in most of the state.

“Housing is something that requires resources,” said Patrick Barkey, BBER director, “and especially in communities that don’t have very high wages, the ability to command enough resources to get housing that folks may like might not be there.”

Barkey stated that high housing prices in the state can cause put a squeeze on budgets for Montanans.

“People who are facing high housing costs– not just prices of owner-occupied, but rent occupants as well– have less money to spend for other things they need. That might be healthcare or that might be saving for retirement,” said Barkey.

Bureau Director Emeritus Paul Polzin spoke Tuesday on Helena’s economy specifically. Currently, the local economy is mostly defined by government jobs noting that fact can be both a positive and a negative for the local economy.

“The good news is that it provides a very stable economy with very little cyclic fluctuation– that just mean recessions here aren’t as bad as they are elsewhere,” said Polzin, “The bad news is that right now government is not a growing industry.”

Polzin also noted Helena is seeing great growth in the Boeing facility and the Healthcare industry. Professional services such as lawyers and engineers also saw significant growth in the community.

The next stop for the seminar series is Great Falls on Wednesday. A full list of the locations can be found on BBER’s website.

BBER is the main research unit of the University of Montana’s College of Business. Research conducted by BBER looks at various different aspects of the state economy.

-John Riley reporting for MTN News