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Economic outlook mixed for Montana

By Kyle Benjamin, Weekend Anchor, kbenjamin@keci.com
Published On: Feb 01 2013 07:09:14 PM MST
Updated On: Feb 01 2013 09:01:45 PM MST
MISSOULA, Mont. -

Analysts from the University of Montana's Bureau of Business and Economic Research released a positive economic report card for Montana and strong predictions for the future.

Gallatin and Silver Bow Counties showed better than average economic growth for 2012, and projected growth above 2.5 percent in the years ahead, thanks in part to strong manufacturing and tech jobs plus a recovering housing market. 

But the story is different for Missoula County.

"Many Missoulians are probably going to have to adjust their expectation about the Missoula economy," says Paul Polzin, director emeritus of the BBER. "Missoula was growing slower before the recession began, and has not started any kind of strong recovery. In fact there is a long way to go."

Patrick Barkey, the current director of BBER, says the closure of the Stimson lumber mill and Smurfit-Stone facility hasn't helped.

"The economy isn't firing on all cylinders, but more of those cylinders are starting to fire," says Barkey. "Largely, it's been the energy investments in the east that are propogating across the state, and already here in Missoula county."

NBC Montana has detailed the arrival of the Aluminum Trailer Company of Maine to the old Stimson site in Bonner. Alcom is expanding west to take advantage of the oil boom.

Even the transportation industry is poised to benefit. Coal, oil and gas products from Montana travel around the country by train and truck.

"Most of the growth in Montana is now in rural areas, primarily in energy and natural resource areas in eastern Montana," says Polzin.

Barkey adds: "The economy is coming back. it is slower than we'd like to see, but the durability of that recovery is starting to finally lift us up a bit."