Tale of Two Cities

Flathead grew its population by 2,014 last year

By Kellyn Brown

In recent years, there have been two things we can expect when the U.S. Census releases its annual county population estimates: Gallatin County will lead the state in growth and Flathead County will be second. That again held true.

According to numbers released last week, Gallatin (home to Bozeman) added 3,220 residents between June 2017 and June 2018. Meanwhile, Flathead grew its population by 2,014 over the same time period. The two easily had the largest influx of people in the state.

Here are the top five counties in terms of resident growth over the course of the year:

  1. Gallatin: 3,220
  2. Flathead: 2,014
  3. Missoula: 928
  4. Yellowstone: 908
  5. Lewis and Clark County: 851

And here are the latest estimates for Montana’s top five most populated counties:

  1. Yellowstone: 160,137
  2. Missoula: 118,791
  3. Gallatin: 111,876
  4. Flathead: 102,106
  5. Cascade: 81,643


The Bozeman and Kalispell “micropolitan statistical areas” also maintained their rankings as the first- and third-fastest growing in the country for the second year in a row. Increased migration to both areas continues a national trend of Americans moving west and south. In fact, all of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the country are in one of those two regions and four out of the top 10 are in Texas, with the largest population increase in the Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington area.

While our population continues to swell, it is still difficult to compare it to Gallatin, which has grown by an astonishing 25 percent since 2010, adding what amounts to a small city of 22,363 people. Over those same eight years, Flathead was the second-fastest growing urban county in the state, adding 11,179 people at a growth rate of 12.3 percent.

But our pace of growth has quickened and last year marked the second in a row we’ve added more than 2,000 people. With all the new arrivals, the valley is in the midst of a residential building boom. Local officials have reiterated the need for more affordable housing and builders have responded. In Kalispell alone, about 700 multi-family units are expected to break ground this spring and summer.

Municipalities are also bracing for more growth. Whitefish is planning to upgrade its wastewater treatment plant. And in Kalispell, work on the sprawling West Side Interceptor, the city’s largest public works project in a decade, is already underway. Once completed, the new sewage main will be able support more than 17,600 households and 44,195 people.

And, finally, the Kalispell bypass will soon take another step toward completion thanks to a federal grant. Roughly two miles of the southern end of the road will be expanded to a four-lane highway while removing the Foys roundabout.

Keeping pace with population growth will continue to be a struggle, but across the Flathead Valley both the private and public sector have tried to step up.

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