Regional Report: The West, for the Most Part, is Growing

Reno is suddenly as hot as a firecracker.

MontanaEnergy, mining and farming—Montana’s top three industries—all contracted last year. The state economy sustained a reverse trifecta of declining oil and gas prices, reduced metal mining activity and falling grain prices.

Despite the pressure on three fronts, the state’s economy did relatively well. In 2015, Montana generated 6,000 jobs—representing more than $60 million in wages and salaries—over the previous year. In 2015, job growth more than doubled as compared to 2014 and continues this year.

In Billings, Montana’s largest city, commercial and industrial projects are breaking ground. Manufacturing and residential construction—the latter having flattened out several years ago—is again up in the state’s western region, especially fast-growing Bozeman.

Montana’s business leaders fret over brain drain and hope the high-tech cluster taking root in the state’s western half opens opportunities for digital-economy workers. The High-Tech Business Alliance, formed in 2014, says members expect to add 940 jobs this year. A clutch of out-of-state companies including Workiva, Helix Business Solutions, Advanced Technology Group and SoFi recently located offices in the state.

AlaskaOnce characterized by boom-and-bust economic cycles, Alaska’s economy settled in the ’90s into slow but steady growth driven by its key sectors: federal government, mining, tourism, fishing, air cargo and healthcare. More recently, slow-but-steady has become drip-drip-drip. Since July 2013, job growth has been negative.

Federal government employment has shrunk nearly 1 percent, a big problem in a state where nearly a quarter of residents cash federal paychecks. This and the effects of plunging oil prices have Alaskans wondering if they’re back in a recession. Business leaders, some of whom suspect recent economic changes are permanent, are pressing government officials to begin planning for a smaller revenue base to avoid raising taxes or postponing infrastructure repairs.


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