Montana Faces Economic Downturn, Seminars Planned

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – With a recession hitting all parts of Montana’s economy, 2009 growth rates are projected to be lowest since 1988, a University of Montana economist said Thursday.

“The boom time is now over,” said Patrick Barkey, director of UM’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research. “For 2009 we think the growth rate is going to be .05 percent, or practically zero,” Barkey told The Associated Press.

That compares with an expected growth rate for 2008 of 2.1 percent when all the data become available and growth rates in recent “boom” years of 4 percent to 5 percent, the UM economist said in a telephone interview.

“The rosy outlook for Montana has unraveled with surprising speed,” Barkey said in a Thursday news release. “We are facing the most significant downturn we’ve seen in 20 years.”

Barkey attributes this significant change in Montana’s economy to the steep declines in consumer and business spending nationally and the lower outlook for most of Montana’s key industries.

Barkey, bureau economist Paul Polzin and other economists from the UM bureau, Montana State University and UM’s Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research will examine local, state and national economic trends at the 34th annual Economic Outlook Seminar series, to be held in nine cities across Montana during January, February and March.

Economic industry forecasts will be presented in health care, nonresident travel, real estate, manufacturing, agriculture and forest products.

“The news on the economy isn’t good, but there has never been a more important time to hear it,” Barkey said.

The seminar will examine transportation issues with a presentation by Steve Albert, director of the Western Transportation Institute. Albert will address the vital role of transportation demands and infrastructure in Montana’s economy.

The first Economic Outlook Seminar will be held in Helena on Tuesday, Jan. 27, at the Best Western Great Northern Hotel.

Following is the schedule for other cities:

— Great Falls Jan. 28, Hampton Inn

— Missoula Jan. 30, Hilton Garden Inn and Conference Center

— Billings Feb. 3, MSU-Billings, Student Union Ballroom

— Bozeman Feb. 4, Best Western Gran Tree Inn

— Butte Feb. 5, Butte War Bonnet Hotel

— Kalispell Feb. 10, Hilton Garden Inn

— Sidney March 10, USDA-ARS Northern Plains Agricultural Research Laboratory

— Miles City March 11, Bureau of Land Management Conference Room

Each BBER seminar starts at 8 a.m. and ends after the luncheon at about 1 p.m.

Registration is $80 and includes the seminar, a proceedings booklet, lunch and a one-year subscription to the Montana Business Quarterly. Continuing education credits are available for an additional $20.