Taking the pulse of Montana’s overall economy


No, this is not another post on pulse crops. This week, I’m writing from a hotel in Missoula. I’ve been traveling with members of the University of Montana’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research to give a series of economic outlook seminars across Montana. George Haynes and I are in charge of giving the ag outlook part of the seminars, and this week it’s my turn to travel.  We kicked the tour off on Tuesday in Helena, were in Great Falls yesterday, and tomorrow morning, we will be at it again in Missoula.

Each year the seminars have a new theme—this year that theme is the future of higher education in Montana. Bob Nystuen, market president of Glacier Bank and vice chair of the Montana University System Board of Regents, is the keynote.

Here are a few highlights from yesterday’s seminar:

The US and global economy are growing, overall. The US grew 2.2% in (inflation adjusted) GDP in 2017. Growth is predicted to continue to grow for the next several years. That’s probably good for the farm sector–general economic improvements typically spur consumer demand. It also can mean greater opportunities for off-farm income for ag producers looking to diversify income streams.

Tourism surged on in 2017, despite the disruption from wildfires. Glacier saw a new record in visits, while Yellowstone saw a slight decline from their 2016 record. At the same time, the Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research found that 8.6% of trips planed to Montana in 2017 were cancelled due to wildfire and smoke.

Agriculture had a troubled year in 2017. If you are reading this blog, well…you probably already know this. To summarize: drought was bad and prices (at least on the crop side) were low. For more information, well, you can find it on the AgEconMT blog!

Housing prices in Montana are growing, and are above the US average. If you live in Bozeman like me, this is probably all too obvious. (See Brock Smith’s post on the topic here.) The Gallatin Valley has seen the most rapid increase in prices.  Whitefish, Missoula, and Hamilton are other areas seeing very rapid home price growth.

Montana’s wood products industry is hopeful looking into 2018. This is in part due to the potential for burned acreage to be declared “salvage” and therefore, harvestable, by the Forest Service. Forest Service controls over 600,000 of Montana’s burned acreage so this could have a large impact.

Heath care has grown more than any other industry in Montana since 2007.  It’s at 136% of what it was ten years ago in terms of inflation adjusted earnings.  Accomodation was the runner up.

Higher education pays.  Costs of attending college have increased over time.  But, so have the benefits.  In inflation-adjusted terms, a man with a college degree earns, on average, nearly $600,000 more than if he had a high school degree only.  That’s taking into account the cost of tuition.  Women also benefit, although less.  That number, for women, is $370K.

I’ll leave the future of higher education in Montana out, as incentive to attend. That, and all the detail behind these highlights. This is just the first week of these seminars, and it’s not over yet.   Come visit with us when we are in your area! The schedule is available here.


About Author

Kate Binzen Fuller is an assistant professor and extension specialist in the Department of Agricultural Economics and Economics at Montana State University. She holds an M.S. and Ph.D. from the University of California, Davis. Her extension and research program focuses on the economics of farm management decisions, including USDA programs and policies, pest and disease responses, and issues surrounding leasing and land values. Kate’s extension program takes her on the road often, resulting in a rapidly expanding knowledge and appreciation for Montana’s interstates, highways, and (especially) gravel roads.

Leave A Reply